Nicosia.- By passing a law excluding the commerce minister from negotiating gas deals, parliament has downgraded what is a supremely political matter, the government said yesterday.
Spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said he hoped the new law didn’t affect the second round of licensing for offshore explorations, which was announced earlier this month.
“We hope it doesn’t; we can’t know for sure,” said Stefanou. “But one would wonder if there could be more problems, when a country or company is interested in exploring for hydrocarbons, with Turkey’s threats, stance and actions to prevent countries from showing an interest in the second round of licensing looming in the background.”
Asked during an interview on Sigma TV if President Demetris Christofias planned to refer the law back to parliament, Stefanou said it was too soon to say.
“First we have to receive the law itself,” he explained. “Once we receive it, we will examine it thoroughly and will announce the President of the Republic’s decision.”
He said he couldn’t say if Christofias was leaning towards a referral of the law, which was passed by majority vote – all MPs except AKEL – on Thursday.
“Parliament has downgraded a supremely political matter to a technocratic level,” said Stefanou.
He added that there was a contradiction. “While everyone admits that the discovery of hydrocarbons in Cyprus is a very important political element, they have chosen – for their own reasons and expediencies – to transfer the political decisions from the government to the technocrats,” said Stefanou.
The new law transfers responsibility to negotiate hydrocarbon matters from the commerce minister to a technical committee, including the Attorney-general and the head of the Energy Service. The committee’s decision will be handed to the commerce minister, who must sign it and on whom it will be binding, to present it to the government for approval, rejection or added specifications. Any final decisions for licensing will be made by the cabinet.
The opposition reasoned that the Cabinet would still have the final say, although they will have been excluded from the negotiating process, and only presented with a final decision. Stefanou said the opposition’s reasoning was a red herring.
Opposition DISY’s deputy president, Averof Neophytou, was of a different view.
“The President of the Republic has no basis to refer the law,” he said yesterday, adding that if Christofias did decide to do so, he would shoot himself, his government and the state’s credibility in the foot.
He said the new law reinforced Cyprus’ prestige and sent a message to foreign markets that the island was a state of transparency and objectivity, which enforced good administration by law.
“The cabinet still has the right, even after the negotiation has ended to say it approves, rejects or sends the agreement back for further negotiation,” Neophytou reasoned. “So the Republic of Cyprus can enjoy more benefits, in my view.”