President hopeful and leader of the Citizens’ Alliance party, George Lillikas, has said that if he is elected he would hold a referendum to allow the people to decide the basis of the settlement of the Cyprus problem.
In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency, ahead of this month’s elections, set for January 28, Lillikas, who is running as an independent candidate for the second time after 2013, said the people should have a say on the basis of the reunification of their country, which has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. So far negotiations under the UN, aiming to reunite the island under a bi-zonal bi-communal federation, have failed to yield any result.
“If the people decide to reject the bi-zonal bi-communal federation as the basis of the settlement of the Cyprus problem, the EU and the international community should be informed and we should declare our readiness and will to commence a new dialogue, a new undertaking on another basis,” he told CNA.
Turkey, he explained, will not concede willingly to a bizonal bicommunal federation or any other model of a solution in Cyprus, such as a unitary state, if the solution does not secure Ankara’s absolute control throughout the island of Cyprus.
“This is the type of settlement Turkey is seeking and this is why no Cypriot President, so far, even the ones who came close to a deal, was able to solve the Cyprus problem. At the end of the day, they all realized what Turkey’s real intentions actually were,” he pointed out.
Lillikas believes that the only way Turkey would consider a solution in Cyprus is if it has to pay a cost, and this cost will affect its vital economic and political interests.
“This is my view. Those who believe that we can convince Turkey with arguments and unilateral concessions to accept a just and fair solution to the Cyprus problem are very much mistaken,” he added.
Furthermore, the presidential hopeful said that negotiations should not resume from where they left off at the Conference on Cyprus in Crans Montana, Switzerland, in July last year, which ended inconclusively.
“My view is that if talks resume from where they left off, we will be faced with the dilemma either to accept a solution based on Turkish demands for the sake of a settlement or face a new deadlock,” he pointed out.
Referring to the economy, Lillikas called for a new economic model which would not solely rely on the services sector, and said that investment should be channeled to research and innovation, something which would compensate Cyprus’ lack of competitiveness in industrial and agricultural products.
He also said that Cyprus should make the transition to digital governance, a move which would help eradicate bureaucracy which he described as one of the main reasons that obstruct the inflow of foreign investment to Cyprus.
“The time has come to make radical reforms in our country, if we want to become an attractive destination to foreign investors,” Lillikas added.
On the problem of non-performing loans, which weigh on the banking sector, following the 2013 financial crisis in Cyprus, Lillikas proposed the setting up of an organisation that would purchase non-performing loans from the banks, aiming at protecting primary residences.
Attracting private investors and without state aid, he said, the organisation would buy bad housing loans or non-performing SME loans at their net book price, that is, after reducing the banks’ provisions.
“In this way homes will be protected while banks will benefit too as they will have high liquidity from loans which otherwise would have been collected in 10 or 15 years, if at all collected, while the banks would also clean their balance sheets from these NPLs” he added.
Replying to questions on the Cyprus hydrocarbon exploration programme, Lillikas said the government should insist that the companies granted exploration license in blocks of the Republic’s Exclusive Economic Zone should adhere to their timeframes, adding that Noble, the operator of Aphrodite reserve carrying an estimated 4.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas did not meet its timeframe concerning the development of Aphrodite.
He said he favours the creation of a natural gas liquefaction terminal (LNG terminal), as this facility would provide Cyprus with more options, besides the option to transfer natural gas to Europe via a subsea pipeline connecting Cyprus with Greece and Italy.
The government has said that a LNG Terminal would be considered if sufficient reserves are discovered in the Cypriot EEZ. The consortium of ENI-TOTAL began an exploratory drilling a few weeks ago in block 6 estimated to conclude by end-January, while US giant Exxon/Mobil and Qatar Petroleum are expected to carry out two drillings in block 10 in the second half of the year. Lillikas said he believes that 2-D and 3-D data acquired by the companies showed “big expectations,” with regard to gas deposits.
He added that Cyprus utilising an LNG terminal could explore the possibility of selling natural gas to Asian markets and remote European regions, adding that an LNG terminal would enable the government to sell natural gas to Jordan “given that a pipeline is politically impossible.”
Lillikas, a former Commerce and Energy Minister, recalled that during his term in office the first Cyprus licensing round took place, and he criticised the government for delaying to reach an agreement over the sale of natural gas to Egypt.
“Egypt discovered the giant natural gas field Zhor and no longer needs Cyprus’ natural gas for its domestic natural gas needs,” he said, adding that “the government should have signed the contract the soonest possible despite a small difference (between the two parties) of some hundreds of millions because the contract value amounted to some billions.”
Asked about the reactions following his comments that people close to another presidential candidate have tried to bribe him to withdraw his candidacy, Lillikas said he had no proof over these accusations, noting that “such things are not done in writing or in front of cameras.” These things are not criminal offences but are of a political nature.
“I have made these accusations in public, first and foremost, to protect my dignity and secondly because I wanted to inform society that some people try to introduce new political ethos and take us back to practices of the past,” he concluded.