Cyprus, cognisant of its size and experience as a member state, wants its presidency of the European Union to be one that facilitates and navigates through the Union’s agenda without fanfare or grand statements.
It is perhaps axiomatic now in EU circles that the rotating presidency has been significantly “devalued” by the advent of the role of the President of the European Council. Perhaps this is even more so as the European Council has taken centre stage in the fight to ward off the debt crisis and as the debate evolves over how to return the EU27 to the path of stability and renewed growth.
However, what Brussels should prepare for is a fresh perspective: Cyprus is Europe’s frontier state with the Middle and near East, a member state that truly sits at the crossroads of East and West. With an economy that has reinvented itself multiple times at the causal of war, conflict and regional unrest, this fresh perspective brings a true sense of practical policy making and action through resilience.
As many observers would note, Cyprus takes its presidency at an odd time: a shift in the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean in the light of significant natural gas discoveries between Israel and Cyprus; continued political and civil unrest in its neighborhood region in Syria and Egypt; and a draining economic crisis in Europe - one that has impacted heavily the Cypriot economy and has forced Cyprus to call on EFSF funds.
Cyprus’ role in recent history, in Europe and in world affairs, has been defined through the prism of geopolitics: Turkey and its ambition in the region; or Cyprus’ division; the never-ending Cyprus problem. It is enlightening of the leadership of the country to declare the intent of its term at the helm of the Council, not be defined through the prism of Turkey.
Like all presidencies, Cyprus will have its fair share of difficult political and policy negotiations, as well as the unpredictability of world affairs to call on its crisis management skills.
Brokering agreements on the Multi Annual Financial Framework – including CAP - steering through the Financial Services regulation, initiating a fresh approach on Maritime policy with substantive issues in environment, JHA, transport, internal market, competition, energy, dealing with asylum policy from a positive migration and inclusiveness perspective, and - most importantly - finding practical ways to push forward the Commission’s agenda on jobs and growth, is more than an ambitious work plan for this presidency.
That is why, on the eve of the presidency, as a proud European and Cypriot, I thought to share with my fellow Europeans in Brussels in soundbyte commentary, an insight to Cyprus’ likely policy thinking guide:
Economic Resilience: Cyprus has reinvented its economy a few times: after gaining its independence from Great Britain in 1960, a coup by the Greek junta and a military invasion by Turkey in 1974, the Lebanese civil war in the 80s and the Gulf war in 1991, and reconstructing the economy and social fabric has given the Cypriot administration realism and a “can do” attitude to the implementation of policy. Calling for help to resuscitate the economy through European funds, whilst complying with reform under the strict diligence of the EU, ECB and the IMF, may challenge the Presidency honest broker role, but it will deepen the resilience of Cypriots to recover their economy.
Ethnic Diversity: as a nation of three official languages – Greek, Turkish and English – and four communities (Greek, Turkish, Armenian and Maronite), the Cypriots have a sense of cultural diversity in the real essence of where West and East meet. Conflict resolution is embedded in Cyprus’ way of dealing with problems and challenges. In the last 40 years, a number of international initiatives have invested time, money and effort in coaching entrepreneurs, policy leaders and civil society in addressing conflict and embracing stronger through values of respect, consensus and shared goals. Cyprus may have a valued perspective to offer for Europe’s foreign policy and in developing credible responses to societal, economic and diplomatic challenges in “near abroad”, our immediate neighborhood.
Inclusiveness and Filoxenia: the concept of 'filoxenia' - hospitality - is deeply rooted in what defines Cypriot-ness: it is a way of life where a 'xenos' or stranger, is made to feel 'at home', more as a member of the family than as a 'foreigner. Brussels could expect that this sense of inclusiveness to permeate the content, brokering and cultural dimensions of this presidency.
Crossroads and Connectivity: For some, Cyprus may sit at the south-eastern extremity of the EU. For others, it is a bridge for Europe to its near neighbors in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Cyprus is a 20 minute flight from Beirut, Damascus and Tel Aviv. It is less than 2 hours flight from Moscow. The traditional ties with Moscow may make some nervous, but in reality, Cyprus offers a great escape from the Russian winter and an option for a cosmopolitan lifestyle by the sea - a short trip away for most Russians and Caucasians. Uniquely, Cyprus serves as a home for Europeans enjoying their 'third age' and time in the sunshine for Arab neighbors, Israeli businessmen and Russian families. To many this represents the paradox of affinity that Cyprus holds to the East and near East and to our European West.
Premising the presidency theme “For A Better Europe” at a time when the European identity and values are eroding under the heavy weight of the economic crisis - is a high risk factor. “Making Europe better” speaks to an ambition which most likely can only be championed by small, resilient countries like Cyprus, whilst cynics can blame the 'size', 'geographic distance from Brussels' or lack of 'impact as the motive behind it. The fact is that Europe needs to address its presence and future in ways that remind it of its value as a 'peace and prosperity project' with strong ethos and shared purpose. Cyprus is one country that understands the need for a “Better Europe” more than others - as a small frontier country divided by force.
Fellow European citizens, we look forward to welcoming you to Cyprus.
(Photo © Cyprus Presidency of the Council of Europe)
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