Reunification of Cyprus fueled by merging energy interests?



After a first round of talks ended Thursday, 12 January, rival Turkish and Greek Cypriot delegations have agreed to continue negotiating an agreement on the final reunification of their island into one state.

A context of new geopolitical factors sets this deal apart from previous attempts at reunification. $50 billion in natural gas reserves have been found in Cyprus’ waters where   the construction of a pipeline between Israel and Turkey is also under discussion. An agreement would strengthen European energy independence and represent a boon in Turkey-EU relations, potentially assuaging the distrust that has grown from the migrant crisis and accusations of a Western role in the failed July coup d’état attempt.

The European Union currently imports most of its natural gas from Russia. Despite publicly supporting Cyprus’ reunification, Russia has been accused by sources within the government of Nicos Anastasiades, President of the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, of trying to undermine the UN talks. Exxon Mobil, Total, ENI and Quatar Petroleum all won contracts last month to explore and drill off the island’s southern shores, according to CNBC.

Turkey, also dependent on Russian gas, is vying for a new pipeline to import natural gas from Israel. Yet, Anastasiades’ government has stated that any such pipeline running through its waters would be blocked if the island remains divided.

If an agreement is found, a referendum will likely take place this summer, giving ethnic Greeks and Turks a chance to put forty years of tension behind them and live in mutually recognized federal states. Greek Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı are both eager to only sign an agreement that they think can gain majority support from both their camps. A similar referendum for what was termed the Annan Plan was rejected in 2004, with most Greeks voting ‘no’ and a majority of Turks voting ‘yes.’ The Republic of Cyprus, located in the Greek south, subsequently joined the European Union. Turkey continues to claim the Northern Republic of Cyprus, where it stations 30,000 troops, as its own.

Points of contention include the status of its guarantor countries—Greece, Turkey and the UK—who have played some role in Cyprus’ security for the past hundred years, Turkey’s troop levels and the boundaries between the two states.

Even if technocrats manage to hammer out a deal that’s viable for both sides, a referendum would ultimately decide the fate of Cyprus’ unity. Turkey has shown willingness to substantially reduce its troop levels. But the younger generations have become accustomed to division. It remains to be seen whether public sentiment will be swayed by growing energy investment in the Levant basin.

Trump, Twitter and Protectionist Rhetoric in the French Presidential Race

French presidential candidates Arnaud Montebourg—a strong contender in the left primaries—and Marine Le Pen—the uncontested leader of the National Front—seem to believe in the magic of US President-Elect Trump’s tweets as much as he does himself. And they aren’t wasting any time trying to share in the spotlight created by them.

After Trump took credit for Ford’s decision to call off its plans for a $1.3 billion factory in Mexico, choosing rather to invest $700 million in a Michigan factory, Le Pen reportedly said on January 4, 2017, to journalists, “Political will pays. The proof is what Donald Trump obtained.” She connects Trump’s vision with her own. “Protectionism works, when it is led by determination, and when a country can exercise its economic independence.”

Reports of what Montebourg actually said are not clear. The Associated Press quoted him as exclaiming, “I see that Donald Trump used the Montebourg method!” However, with no other media quotes available, the one short clip I found had him saying something more akin to, “He has taken some of my themes, because I came before him in politics.”

The two have often cited American examples of trade and industrial policy to defend their own protectionist positions. Montebourg compared his proposal of reserving 80% of government procurement for French SMEs to those laid out in the Small Business Act of 1953 and similar legislation onwards. The National Front likes to point its finger at the Buy America(n) provisions that allegedly give the United States an advantage over French companies who seek American infrastructure contracts.

The appeal of such arguments is two-fold. The reciprocity of doing unto the US what the US does unto France makes them seem tough and willing to take on unfair competition—in the same vein as Trump’s blaming of China, though not as dominant. The second objective is to poke a hole in the narrative of the United States as a country that practices what it preaches. Rather than playing by the rules of open, free trade, it’s real economic prowess would stem from its bare-knuckled protectionism it has been practicing in the shadows.

Questions of the validity of those arguments are for another blog entry. For example, the quotas in American rules that protect critical infrastructure from foreign investment can be interpreted very loosely and, unless I’m mistaken, reach nowhere near the 80% Montebourg is promising. What’s interesting is how willing these two foreign presidential candidates are to lend credence to the myth that Ford’s production strategy follows Trump’s whims at the stroke of a key.

In an article portraying it as a victory, even Fox News conceded the following, “Fields (Ford CEO) said Ford would have gone ahead with the decision whether or not Trump was elected president.”  The article then went on to describe the news as “the latest in a string of pre-inauguration successes for Trump in the manufacturing sector.”

So, victory is claimed in favor of a man who is not yet President, for an event that would have happened regardless of him winning the election. Granted, CEO Fields did cite Trump’s “pro-growth” policies as encouraging. But if he admits that his move would have happened with Clinton in line for the Presidency, the moral of the story is clear: Companies that want to succeed in Trump’s America are going to have to do everything necessary to flatter his ego and play to his own communications strategies.

In a recent article for Slate, Daniel Gross explains the factors behind the forces that would have led Ford to redirect capital to Michigan. The marked trend for cars with high-tech equipment and greener motors requires a level of R&D most easily found in the US.  But, especially for Ford, it’s also because the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program, made available to automakers by the Bush administration, and carried on by Obama, was provided for “batteries, electrification and fuel efficiency.” Ford, the only one of the Big Three to take advantage of this program, took out a loan of $5.7 billion in 2009 and used it to upgrade 13 factories.

These programs resemble more what the EU’s Juncker Plan was meant to put in place—providing public funds to secure private investment for innovation, green technology and infrastructure—than the sort of protectionism that Montebourg and Le Pen seem to find attractive in Trump’s proposals and rhetoric. Not exactly an observation either of these two candidates would be willing to concede, though Montebourg has proposed a sweeping national stimulus plan that many critics have doubted would fly under the EU’s budgetary rules.