As the European Union’s easternmost member state, Cyprus has established itself as a geostrategic EU outpost at the crossroads of three continents. As an international business centre and with global cooperation in multiple sectors, Cyprus’ reach goes far beyond its borders, with 2021 also bringing new efforts to finally reach a solution for this divided island.
The Republic of Cyprus is a unitary presidential representative republic, where the President of Cyprus is both head of state and head of government, and executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the parliament, and the judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The seventh president of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, was re-elected for another five-year term on 4 February 2018. The conservative candidate and head of the DISY party won his second term following a run-off presidential election with a majority of 55.99% of the vote. Embarking on his second term in office, the President called for unity to address future challenges.
At the start of his first term, Cyprus suffered a major financial crisis, and President Anastasiades had to take robust measures to steer the country back on track from one of the most challenging economic times in the island’s history. The economy bounced back swiftly returning to growth in 2015, investment grade rating in 2018 and recording an average GDP growth of 5.4% in 2016-19, making Cyprus one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union. In 2020, this growth momentum was stalled by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, but with strong action and robust support packages in place the country has fared better than many of its European peers. In fact, Cyprus’s GDP was projected to increase by 7% in a five-year span as a result of the country’s recovery and resilience plan.
The division of Cyprus remains one of the most long-standing and prominent issues in the political arena. UN-brokered peace talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaderships, which first began in 1968, are still ongoing. These negotiations are aimed at finding a sustainable solution to the ‘Cyprus Problem’, which led to the de facto division of the island between the mainly Greek-speaking south and the mainly Turkish-speaking north for over four decades. Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar have been holding talks in a bid to reunify the island though this has proved to be challenging as Tatar openly supports a two-state solution. Plans to resume the UN-led talks are underway, but rising tensions in 2020 between Cyprus, Greece and Turkey over hydrocarbons explorations in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) have complicated the process further.
In 1960 Cyprus gained independence from Britain and became a unitary state of both Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots (respectively around 80% and 20% of the population). In July 1974, a right-wing coup backed by the military junta in power in Greece overturned the democratically elected government, forcing the Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios to flee. This prompted Turkey, one of the guarantor powers, which also include Greece and the UK, to send its troops into the island to support the Turkish Cypriot minority. Fierce fighting followed and the ensuing ceasefire line – known as the Green Line and patrolled by United Nations troops – has effectively partitioned the island ever since. However, visitors can safely access either side through various checkpoints along the Green Line. Today, Nicosia is the world’s last divided capital, since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The population of the southern two-thirds of the island, controlled by the government of the Republic of Cyprus, is almost entirely Greek Cypriot, while the population of the northern third, controlled by the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (recognised only by Turkey) comprises Turkish Cypriots, settlers from the Turkish mainland and around 42,000 Turkish troops.
From Foreign Rule to the Republic of Cyprus
Colonised by the ancient Greeks in 1400 BC, Cyprus has had a succession of foreign rulers through the centuries, including the Romans, the Byzantines, the Franks and the Venetians, whose 300-year rule ended in 1571 when the island became part of the Ottoman Empire. After almost 250 years of Ottoman rule, Cyprus was placed under British administration in 1878. The island finally became independent in 1960 after a protracted and violent struggle against the colonial power between 1955 and 1959. After lengthy negotiations, Britain, Greece and Turkey drafted a constitution for the new state, along with Treaties of Guarantee and Alliance. The Republic of Cyprus came into being in August 1960. The constitution and the two accompanying treaties established a complex power-sharing structure between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, which precluded partition of the island, or union with Greece or Turkey. Both countries, along with Britain, were also designated guarantors of the independence, territorial integrity and security of the Republic. The constitution provided for a Greek Cypriot president and a Turkish Cypriot vice president, while the Turkish Cypriot community was granted three ministerial positions out of a total of 10, and 15 out of the 50 seats in the House of Representatives. After intercommunal strife between the two communities in 1963, Turkish Cypriots vacated their seats. Since then, ministerial positions have increased to 11, all duties carried out by Greek Cypriots and the number of parliamentary seats has extended to 80 of which 30% (24) are allocated to Turkish Cypriots as per the constitution but remain vacant.
Cyprus joined the EU on 1 May 2004 together with nine other European countries. Under the terms of its accession the entire island is considered technically to be a member of the European Union, despite its continued division and the fact that the government of the Republic has no effective authority in the northern part of the island. However, the terms of the acquis communautaire, the EU’s body of laws, have been suspended in the north. Cyprus has historically followed a non-aligned foreign policy, although it increasingly identifies with the West in its cultural affinities and trade patterns, and maintains close relations with Greece. Turkey refuses to recognise the government of the Republic of Cyprus, arguing that the latter – as established by the Constitution of 1960 – ceased to exist when the intercommunal violence that broke out in December 1963 ended Turkish Cypriot participation in government. As a result, Turkey still refuses to allow Cypriot-flagged vessels access to its ports, despite pressure from the European Union. Cyprus is a member of the United Nations and most of its agencies, as well as the Commonwealth of Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Council of Europe. In addition, the country has signed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency Agreement (MIGA).
Constitution, Institutions and Administration
The 1960 constitution provided for power sharing between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. Votes on important issues required separate parliamentary majorities, and the Greek Cypriot president and the Turkish Cypriot vice president both had the right of veto on important decisions. The system of government is presidential, with the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. The presidential term lasts five years, with the next presidential election due in 2023. Ministers, who are appointed by the president, cannot hold seats in the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives is elected by proportional representation. Its normal term is five years.
• President of the Republic of Cyprus - Nicos Anastasiades
• Minister of Foreign Affairs - Nikos Christodoulides
• Minister of Finance - Constantinos Petrides
• Minister of Interior – Nicos Nouris
• Minister of Defence – Charalambos Petrides
• Minister of Health - Michalis Hadjipantelas
• Minister of Education and Culture – Prodromos Prodromou
• Minister of Transport, Communications and Works – Yiannis Karousos
• Minister of Energy, Commerce and Industry – Natasa Pilides
• Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment - Costas Kadis
• Minister of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance - Zeta Emilianidou
• Minister of Justice and Public Order – Stephie Drakou
• Government Spokesman – Marios Pelekanos
• Under Secretary to the President - Vasilis Palmas
• Shipping Deputy Minister – Vassilis Demetriades
• Deputy Minister for Tourism – Savvas Perdios
• Deputy Minister for Welfare – Anastasia Anthousi
Dominant Political Parties:
• Democratic Rally (DISY), a right-wing party led by Averof Neophytou
• Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), a left-wing party led by Andros Kyprianou
• Democratic Party (DIKO), a centre-right party led by Nicolas Papadopoulos
Smaller Political Parties:
• Movement of Social Democracy (EDEK), a social democratic party led by Marinos Sizopoulos
• Ecologists Movement, also known as the Cyprus Green Party, led by Charalambos Theopemptou
• Democratic Front (DIPA), a centrist political party led by Marios Garoyian
• National People’s Front (E.L.A.M.), an ultranationalist party led by Christos Christou
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