Cyprus is regaining its competitive edge and consolidating its regional outreach in a bid to create a framework conducive for further cooperation and investment in the region.
How would you describe the direction of Cyprus’ foreign policy and your key priorities for 2016?
There are two key considerations that shape our foreign policy outlook and will remain the constants of our approach. Firstly, the political and security developments in our neighbourhood. Considering the volatility of our region, we have sought to engage with our neighbours on a more diverse and comprehensive agenda, which also includes a more active security cooperation dimension. For example, we have donated military materiel worth US$20 million to the Lebanese Armed Forces, a pillar of stability in Lebanon, as part of their capability development plan. Also, through our trilateral formats of cooperation with Greece and Egypt and with Greece and Israel, we have expanded our joint consultations on regional issues and on responses to particularly asymmetric threats. This trilateral cooperation also focuses on the energy prospects of the Eastern Mediterranean, which is the second key tenet of our foreign policy outlook. Through a shared vision and a series of bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries our aim is to forge a solid legal and political framework, conducive for investments in this sector.
Cyprus has been an EU member since 2004 and part of the Eurozone since 2008, how would you characterise the current relations between Cyprus and Europe?
It would be naοve to say that Cypriots don’t feel a certain bitterness or a let-down by the European response to our financial crisis and from the bail-in of 2013. However, we didn’t let this shock bring us down. We rolled up our sleeves and we are now redefining our economy, and what is crucial at this juncture is that the EU structures are actively supporting our efforts in establishing a new financial paradigm. We also appreciate the more dynamic engagement of the EU with specific aspects of the current negotiations on the Cyprus problem, via the personal envoy of President Juncker. On EU foreign policy, we are particularly active where we can add value on the broader relations of the EU with its Southern partners. We wish to see a more engaged and engaging EU in the Middle East, with a more pragmatic and active foreign policy, and not a technocratic approach to political issues.
A former British colony , Cyprus has a long shared history with the UK. How do you see future cooperation developing between the two countries?
There are strong bonds of friendship and partnership between Cyprus and the UK, and we have a solid track record of working effectively together, including as partners in the European Union and the Commonwealth. Personal relationships and contacts are a pillar of this relationship, be it through tourism, higher education or business. Our dynamic and comprehensive agenda for cooperation with the UK is mutually beneficial and I am particularly pleased with the intensified security and defence cooperation considering the security situation in our vicinity, as well as the UK’s valuable assistance in our efforts to reform our civil service and government structures as we reshape our economy. We shall continue to remain closely engaged with our British counterparts on issues of shared interest, such as EU reform and the challenges posed by massive migration to Europe.
Cyprus has seen much investment from the US in the last two years, most notably in the banking and energy sectors , how do you see this relationship developing in the future?
Over the last few years, we have seen a stronger interest by US companies in doing business in Cyprus, primarily due to the new opportunities that have arisen. The discovery of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as the perks of establishing a business in Cyprus for accessing regional markets, have been a pull-factor. And by perks, I don’t refer only to a competitive tax regime, but also to our highly skilled labour, our infrastructure and the stability of the island and its pleasant living conditions. I think Cyprus is still a nascent market for US companies and I am confident that we will see more US business interests developing in Cyprus. This would complement the existing excellent relations between the USA and Cyprus, and we have seen an enhanced partnership especially on regional security.
As a stable and secure EU country in an increasingly volatile region, how are the diplomatic relations between Cyprus and its neighbours?
Our relations with our neighbours are outstanding, and this is not an exaggeration. Cyprus does not have a hidden agenda for the region nor any ulterior motives. Our vision is simple. The Eastern Mediterranean is a region of untapped potential and wealth that can only be fully and equitably realised if we all work together in peace and security. I think what is also appreciated by our neighbours is that in times of crisis, when for example civilian lives are in danger, Cyprus and the Cypriots, are always willing to lend a helping hand, be that in the evacuation of citizens to putting down fires. What I have also gathered from my frequent meetings with my counterparts in the region is that our neighbours appreciate the knowledge and perspective we bring into the European Union, when it comes to their EU relations.
Europe is currently facing an inflow of refugees from a war -torn Middle East, what impact have the events in Syria and its neighbouring countries had on Cyprus and how is the country tackling these issues?
Cyprus has not experienced a massive inflow of refugees for a variety of reasons, the primary reason being that under the current national and EU asylum arrangements, asylum seekers reaching Cyprus won’t be able to then travel to mainland Europe and reach their desired destination. Of course, if the security situation deteriorates further in Syria, this might change, therefore we remain vigilant.
Cyprus is closer than ever to finding a solution to the Cyprus problem, what opportunities do you see opening up if a resolution is reached?
We are working hard towards finding a viable and enduring solution to the Cyprus problem and I hope that we will be able to reach a settlement in the near future. A solution would allow the proper functioning of institutions and instil confidence in the stability of a re-united Cyprus, ushering a new economic era for the island. Opportunities would be abundant both in terms of inward investment in real estate, tourism and hydrocarbons sectors, as well as in terms of more international companies reaching out to the region via Cyprus. Beyond this, the reunification of Cyprus would have a positive impact on our region, which needs to have a good story amidst the current gloom of conflict and political stalemates.
How do you see Cyprus developing in the next two years?
We are working methodically to put Cyprus on the right path for growth and development. We have excellent ‘hardware’, our people and infrastructure, so we are now updating our ‘software’, the efficiency of the institutions and our regulatory frameworks. I am confident that in the next two years, Cyprus will emerge stronger from its current predicament, regaining its competitive edge and consolidating its regional outreach. I also hope that Cyprus will be reunited, thus becoming a beacon of stability in our very tumultuous region and an example of coexistence and tolerance.