Keynote article by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Nikos Christodoulides, as it appears in the December 2020 edition of the Bimonthly Electronic Newsletter of the Cyprus Centre for European an International Affairs at the University of Nicosia, 'In Depth'.
“Cyprus Foreign Policy – The Way Forward”
In the sixty years since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, its foreign policy has evolved significantly, in a process that can be described as transitioning from introversion to extroversion.
In this evolutionary process certain historical events have had a decisive, transformative effect on Cyprus’s foreign policy. The 1974 Turkish invasion, as well as the accession of the Republic of Cyprus to the European Union, constitute two of the most critical events in this respect.
The tragic events of the 1974 Turkish invasion and its enduring consequences forcibly carved an inevitable path for Cyprus’s foreign policy. This is not surprising given the magnitude of the devastation caused, with over 37% of the territory of the country under military occupation, over 200,000 forcibly displaced from their lands and properties, as well as the orchestrated policy by Turkey to erode the demographic, cultural and religious character of the occupied areas of the Republic of Cyprus. An island of less than 10,000 km2 was violently called to manage a national problem, the Cyprus Problem, of a disproportionate magnitude to its size.
Diplomacy was, and continues to be, at the forefront of our determined efforts to reunify the Republic of Cyprus and its people, in a viable, functional, independent, sovereign European country that ensures internally the well-being of all its citizens, and externally is able to be a constructive, stabilizing actor in its region, in its European Union home, and beyond.
The Cyprus Problem continues to be the foremost priority, at the heart of our foreign policy, utilizing all political and diplomatic tools at our disposal. Cyprus’s accession to the EU in 2004, possibly the most pivotal moment in Cyprus’s modern history and certainly one of its greatest diplomatic successes, has meant that the solution of the Cyprus Problem is inextricably linked to the EU and by extension to EU law, values and principles. Cyprus is and will remain a member state of the Union following reunification. Fully cognizant of the fact that the potential of the country can only be fully reached if the country is reunified, all efforts are exerted to support the efforts of the UNSG for the resumption of negotiations for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem, in a bi-zonal bi-communal federation, fully in line with United Nations Security Council Resolutions, in line with international law and European law. The EU’s expressed commitment to continue participating and supporting the negotiations under UN auspices is of utmost importance in this regard.
And while the solution of the Cyprus problem will always remain the number one priority of the Cypriot Government, in recent years we have embarked on a different strategy. Our efforts have focused on moving beyond a monothematic foreign policy, projecting into a diverse, poly-thematic one, utilizing Cyprus’s unique characteristics, amplifying our geostrategic role, and promoting a vision for our region that resonates well beyond the boundaries of the Eastern Mediterranean. The rationale is that the benefits accrued would have a beneficial ripple effect in our efforts to reunify Cyprus.
The multi-faceted foreign policy I refer to is anchored on three main pillars.
The first is the enhancement of our relations with countries in our immediate region, the Middle East and the Gulf. Building on the historically excellent relations with our neighbours, we have worked methodically in deepening our ties, and cooperation. Our actions are underpinned by a long term vision for our region that we believe is relevant not only for the region and its countries but also for Europe. At a time of shifting of powers in the region we see significant added value in increasing EU involvement in the Eastern Mediterranean.
This brings me to the second pillar, which is a more active involvement of Cyprus within the EU, beyond issues that directly touch upon the Cyprus problem, which for a long time following our accession was the case. We have worked methodically to build our voice in Brussels on an array of issues where Cyprus has a strong added value. A prime example is bringing the Eastern Mediterranean’s perspective to the EU. The creation of the General Secretariat for the EU last year, under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is an important step in building a stronger, more effective, more coherent voice in the EU, which as time passes and horizontal coordination is enhanced, will be achieved to an even greater extent. This is crucial in addressing the critical challenges all member states and the EU are facing and will continue to face in 2021.
The third pillar relates to the strengthening of relations with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, as well as with key players in the international arena. So far as the five permanent members of the Security Council are concerned, we have worked in building our relationship beyond the remit of the discussion of the Cyprus problem at the Security Council, creating an evolving and continuously advancing strategic cooperation in all fields. Through this process, the important role Cyprus can play in a region of strategic importance, is highlighted.
Perhaps there is no better example encapsulating the unravelling in practice of this policy than the trilateral cooperation mechanisms that Cyprus, together with Greece and countries of the region have established with countries of the region, namely Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon. Energy developments brought these countries together in creating a legal framework for exploration and exploitation of natural resources, fully in line with international law. And yet, the cooperation proliferated in an array of other areas such as security, education, environment, climate change, and innovation. It is important to stress that these forums have a positive agenda with an inclusive, compound effect. They are open to all countries in the region that respect international law, good neighbourly relations, the sovereignty, and the sovereign rights of all their neighbours.
Another characteristic is that these mechanisms are constantly evolving, expanding both thematically and in terms of format and participation. For example we had the meeting in Cairo at the ministerial level of Cyprus, Greece and Egypt, joined by France and Italy. The United States joined Cyprus, Greece and Israel in a meeting on issues of security. In the midst of the pandemic, a virtual ministerial conference with the participation of Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, France and the United Arab Emirates, on issues of security, took place.
The dynamic of the trilateral mechanisms, and the commitment of countries involved in investing in them, is proven by the decision taken to institutionalise them, through the establishment in Nicosia of a Secretariat for the coordination and implementation of decision taken. The Secretariat is expected to start operate on 1 January 2021.
It is my conviction that the cooperation developed in the region has also created a dynamic that could lead to the creation of a regional Organisation for Security and Cooperation when the political conditions permit. In fact, the East Med is one of the few regions where such an organization does not exist. The Organisation would be inclusive, based on a positive agenda, and with the only pre-requisites being respect for international law, and commitment to good neighbourly relations.
There can be no doubt that at a time when, due to the pandemic, states are turning their backs to multilaterism, opting for insularism, countries in the region are taking a different path, creating a narrative of like-minded countries, with an inclusive agenda coming together to promote a vision of cooperation, peace, stability and prosperity for the Middle East. The message to those countries of the region, which opt for confrontation and gunboat diplomacy of a past era, is to join us and countries of the region on this path of cooperation.
As an academic in my past life, but also as a historian, a diplomat, and currently Minister of Foreign Affairs, I am fully aware that foreign policy in practice differs radically from foreign policy in theory. The Foreign Ministry, in addition to traditional foreign policy tools, has also embarked on elaborating a strategic plan and utilizing “soft power” foreign policy tools. These include cultural diplomacy, gender mainstreaming, as well as economic diplomacy on which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has undertaken a leading role in defining an Economic Diplomacy Strategy for Cyprus for the period 2021-2031, aiming to effectively use its diplomatic network in reinforcing Cyprus’ position in the global market.
Fully cognizant of the opportunities, the limitations and the immense challenges we are faced with, but at the same encouraged by the potential that is surfacing, we shall continue walking the path of extrovert foreign policy, firmly anchored on international law.