Tom Ellis TOM ELLIS

An increasing French presence in the East Med

COMMENT

TAGS: Cyprus, Energy, Diplomacy

The growing international interest in the Eastern Mediterranean is not limited to the energy sector nor to the role of the United States. Other important Western players have been getting in on the action, particularly France, which is involved in exploration for the hydrocarbon deposits believed to exist beneath the seabed in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, but also in other areas such as security and the economy.

Top French government officials have openly defended Cyprus’s right to explore and exploit its natural resources. Apart from the leading role played by oil giant Total, we also have the entry of other French businesses in different areas of the Cypriot economy, most notably in mobile telecommunications.

By taking advantage of a very effective diplomatic representative – the French ambassador in Nicosia speaks excellent Greek and is very knowledgeable on regional matters – Paris is developing a multifaceted presence in Cyprus which is increasingly becoming part of in its broader plans for the “next day” in the Middle East. The docking of French warships in a Cypriot port is also part of this framework.

Other pieces of the regional energy puzzle include the support shown by the European Commission for the EastMed pipeline, but also the close partnership between Total and ExxonMobil in Greece.

In the meantime, just as the United States is showing an interest in playing an auxiliary role in the Greece-Cyprus-Israel partnership in areas such as security, so is France – having traditionally maintained a presence in the area – which is seeking to bolster its role further by being included in the other trilateral cooperation scheme between Greece, Cyprus and Egypt – though to what extent and in what form has yet to be decided.

France’s interest in playing a role in regional development was confirmed by Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian during his visit to Nicosia two months ago. He noted then, in an interview with Kathimerini, that President Emmanuel Macron had urged his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to desist from increasing tension in the Eastern Mediterranean, while also assuring Greece and Cyprus of France’s vigilance and solidarity.

Given these latest developments, it should come as no surprise that Macron is planning a visit to Nicosia soon.

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