By George Georgakopoulos
Cyprus could emerge from its financial troubles by selling some of its confirmed natural gas reserves in advance, and reunite not on the basis of a bizonal, bicommunal federation, but as a federation of several states similar to the systems of the USA, Germany or Australia, presidential candidate Yorgos Lillikas told Kathimerini English Edition in an interview during his visit to Athens earlier this week.
Running neck and neck with left-wing government candidate Stavros Malas for the second spot, former Foreign Minister Lillikas is hoping to enter a runoff with poll front-runner Nikos Anastasiadis, head of the right-wing Democratic Rally, by offering alternative proposals both on the economy and on the issue of the island’s partition.
Opinion polls in Cyprus suggest Anastasiadis will easily top the first round on February 17 but won’t manage to get near the 50 percent share of the votes needed to enable him to be elected the new president of Cyprus and replace left-wing Dimitris Christofias for the next five years.
Lillikas, who started out as a first-time presidential candidate without any party support but has now secured the backing of the EDEK Social Democrats, aspires to make the second round by playing the patriotic card and banking on the Cypriot tradition that sees the candidate who finishes second in the first round end up winning the runoff.
Using strong words but softly spoken, 53-year-old Lillikas expends on his policies that trace their roots to former Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos, remembered for standing up to pressures to accept the United Nations-backed “Annan V” plan for the solution of the Cyprus problem in the 2004 referendums.
“The Annan Plan proved that the solution of the bizonal federation was aimed at splitting Cyprus. It was based on racist criteria as it separates Cypriots depending on ethnicity, it abolished human rights and political liberties. It is obsolete as it was rejected by the majority of Cypriots through the referendums. Since the people have rejected that solution, no one has the legal right to revert to it.
“I rule out any solution that does not lead to the liberation and unification of the island and its people, and does not restore all human rights and liberties. I want a solution that does not have Cypriot people as second-rate citizens within the European Union, since with the bizonal federation we would have the paradox of, say, the Germans, French and the British being able to settle anywhere they wanted on Cyprus, while the Greek Cypriots would not have the right to settle in the north of the island.
“I do not rule out the solution of a federation at all. The United States of America is a federal state. So is Germany. The problem is not in the federation itself, but in the bizonality, which is nowhere to be found in international constitutional law. A federal state that would be viable would have to comprise many mini-states, based on geography, with the six regions of Cyprus turning into six federal states, for instance. Based on the US system, they would enjoy a significant degree of autonomy as far as local administration is concerned, but remember that the US remains one country, with one central administration, one economy etc. European Union law should apply to all states, which is essential for a member country anyway, although the bizonal system would not have complied with it.”
Asked why he would opt for the multiple federal system, especially for a country as small as Cyprus, Lillikas explains that “it is based on a key principle: In the Parliament the states are represented in proportion to their population, while in the Senate each state must have the same number of senators. If we were to have just two states, then the Senate would be split 50-50 and that might entail problems in decision-making. The existence of more states would allow for the formation of majorities.
“What I do not want is separation based on ethnicity, we should not revert to systems that are reminiscent of apartheid, which humanity has already rejected.” And what about the settlers from Turkey, who have filled the occupied north of the Mediterranean island? “All settlers would have to leave. Their arrival on Cyprus was a war crime. You see, in Cyprus we tend to forget that the situation is the outcome of an invasion and occupation. War and violence do not draft laws. In isolated cases we would have to look into the situation of certain settlers or their children applying to stay in Cyprus as immigrants.”
His eyes light up. “People often confuse the difficult with the impossible. I have never said that what I propose is easy, but it is not impossible either,” he says, stressing that the policies followed by Greek-Cypriot governments over the last 38 years have brought no results on the island.
The key to a solution, he says, would have to be forcing Turkey, not just the Turkish Cypriots, to come to the negotiating table. That could happen by putting pressure on Ankara through a double strategy: first, by making it realize it cannot reach all its strategic targets – i.e. both to control Cyprus and to enter the EU – something that could happen by Nicosia vetoing not just its accession process but also its special relationship with the bloc; and second, “by forcing Turkey to suffer a greater cost by occupying part of the island than the benefit it has from it via the utilization of our natural gas reserves.”
The minimum amount of 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas confirmed to the south of the island has a central role in Lillikas’s thinking. He believes that these reserves are also the answer to the country’s fiscal problems, as he is clearly not happy with the government resorting to the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund for bailout loans.
“My pledge is that within 2013 I will have Cyprus disengaged from the memorandum with the creditors, which we have not yet seen anyway. The idea is to sell natural gas in advance to countries willing to acquire it in order to ensure they will have the quantities they require in the future. We have already seen some interest from China and Japan and recently we have also heard from India. This is common practice,” he says, adding that this could also apply to Greece once it has its hydrocarbon reserves confirmed as well: “After all, I believe that the future of Hellenism is common.”
He has already been given the anti-bailout tag, but he rejects that. “We have not yet been given the terms of a bailout, so how can I be against it? We do not yet know its amount or its interest rate. Other candidates are prepared to offer a blank check, by saying yes to everything. My worry, however, is that the second tranche of the bailout will be on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, with the proposal for a painful solution to the Cypriot problem as one of its indispensable conditions.”
The Paphos-born politician refuses to attribute the economic crisis in Cyprus to Greek businesspeople, as the Christofias government has done, but says rather that the crisis in Greece indeed played its part, but in the context of the international crisis. “Cyprus should have shielded itself from the impact of the global problems, and we had warned the government about that. It took no measures to protect the economy, but instead allowed Cypriot banks to issue loans beyond any control and beyond their means. This is something I intend to have a special prosecutor investigate,” says Lillikas.
Regarding the effect of the Greek debt restructuring, which Finance Minister Vassos Shiarly recently said was a gift to Greece that harmed Cyprus, Lillikas counters that Nicosia should have asked for the exemption of Cypriot banks from the PSI as they had already issued loans they could not make provisions for.
Speaking a few minutes before visiting Prime Minister Antonis Samaras at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, Lillikas did not think twice before responding to a question on the progress of the Greek government. “I fully support Samaras’s efforts. His role is similar to that of Tassos Papadopoulos in 2003, when he inherited the Annan Plan and tried to help Cyprus avoid the worst of its effects. Similarly, Samaras inherited the bailout conditions, he has already made a great effort and has restored Greece’s credibility abroad.
“What he now has to do is to change the course of the economy toward growth. The problem is that, as it is, the Greek state is not immune to political crises. Greece needs to create a state mechanism that would not be affected by changes in government, as happens with the Cypriot civil service, or in Britain, for instance. He needs to model the Greek civil service on a foreign one in order for the public sector to pick itself up.”
Finally, he holds up his cigar and expresses confidence that once again the runner-up in the first round will be the winner of the runoff on February 24, saying that “what we are witnessing is a peaceful political revolution by the citizens, as this candidacy is not based on a political party but supported by politicians and voters from all Cypriot parties.”