Establishment of European Affairs Deputy Ministry in the pipeline, FM tells CNA
Foreign Minister, Constantinos Kombos, has said that the Republic of Cyprus has been considering the establishment of a Deputy Ministry for European Affairs in view of the Cypriot Presidency of the EU, during the first half of 2026.
The Minister said in an interview with CNA that the aim is for the 2026 Cypriot EU Presidency to be more successful than the Cypriot EU Presidency of 2012. As regards the cooperation schemes which Cyprus and Greece maintain with countries of the region, he noted that discussions are taking place with partners participating in these schemes for deepening them as well as enhancing them, with the participation of other states of the region as well.
Referring to the Cyprus-US relations, Kombos said that they are at an excellent level and that there is cooperation in a range of fields, as in the sectors of defence and security, while noting that concrete actions are taking place, in coordination with the US side, to abolish visas between the two countries. Moreover, he noted that plans are being made for him to pay a visit to Washington.
As regards the visit of Cyprus President, Nikos Christodoulides, to Israel, on May 10-11, Kombos said that the Cyprus problem as well as bilateral issues and the progress of the two countries’ relations will be discussed “taking always into consideration the parameter of the trilateral cooperation and how this can be utilized.” Moreover, he stressed that Cyprus has a strategic relation with Israel, that needs to grow and deepen on an everyday basis.
Cyprus engagement with EU affairs
Asked about Cyprus engagement with the EU affairs, the Foreign Minister noted that 2024 will be a year that will mark on one hand the 20th anniversary of Cyprus accession to the EU and on the other hand the sad 50th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of the island.
He stressed that the settlement of the Cyprus problems will broaden the horizons to further develop the role of the Cyprus Republic, noting that “our aim is not just to deal with a single issue (the Cyprus problem) and we have been acting based on this."
“We have positions and views on all the spectrum of the EU functions and this helps in order to be a reliable partner, to be a constructive interlocutor and be able to make use of the benefits that we also have geographically. Cyprus has the potential, and has proven this, through the multilateral and the trilateral schemes in this area, an area which has particular importance for the EU and others, to act as a bridge between the EU and other neighbouring countries,” he said.
Consequently, he added, “our role is quite upgraded. We know that that states of the region view us as a stakeholder which can express their views and positions in the EU and put them forward for discussion. This is a two-way relationship and the EU realizes that we have access to facilitate the dialogue and the discussion with neighbouring countries,” he noted.
He went on to say that the 2026 Cypriot EU Presidency is a milestone that will further highlight the role of Cyprus as an EU member state that can participate in all levels of deliberations and in all issues. Moreover, he noted the effect that EU policies have on people’s everyday lives for example in the sectors of the environment, competitiveness and food security. “We see various important initiatives and projects by the EU, the Fit for 55, the NextGenerationEU, from which the Republic of Cyprus is being benefitted and will benefit even more,” Kombos said.
He noted that this would not be possible if Cyprus was not dealing with a variety of EU issues, adding at the same time that “we need to reinforce our presence, our role and our influence. And our influence increases through reliability which is a matter related to many issues,” he added.
Kombos said that the Republic is not only promoting its positions on the Cyprus problem but is also active in all the EU issues or matters of a European interest. He noted that for example on the issue of Ukraine, Nicosia’s position has been crystal clear “and we consider that the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine needs to be address and is being addressed collectively by the EU.”
He stressed that the Republic of Cyprus participates in all actions decided on this issue, the ten packages of sanctions against Russia, while an eleventh one is currently being discussed. “The Republic of Cyprus is fully participating in all this and all our partners recognize the important cost that this has for us, both at the economic and the political level. But there could be no other thoughts or choices for us, as we are also victims of an invasion and we could not have any other approach, and this is something that is taken into consideration, increasing our reliability,” he added.
Asked if there are any plans to establish a Deputy Ministry for European Affairs, in view of the 2026 Cypriot EU Presidency, Kombos said that this is something under consideration, an issue that will move forward. Asked if this will take place prior to the Cypriot EU Presidency he replied that this will certainly be the case as preparation is required for the Presidency. He recalled that there is a Trio of the Presidency that involves prior coordination with the other two EU member states.
The Foreign Minister also noted that the first Cypriot EU Presidency in 2012 has shown that there is a number of administrative issues that need to be addressed related to staffing, the reinforcement of human resources both in Nicosia and in the Permanent Representation of Cyprus at the EU.
“This is a giant effort, a giant operation. Our effort in 2012 was successful. Since then, we’ve had the examples of countries which joint the EU along with us and which conducted very successful Presidencies for the second time. Therefore, our aim is to act in the same way as the other member states whose Presidency for the second time was more successful than the first one,” he added.
Asked about the course of the trilateral schemes in which Cyprus participates along with Greece and countries of the region, as well as of the 3+1 scheme (Cyprus, Greece, Israel + USA) and if there will be more such cooperation schemes, Kombos noted that “this is an effort that reinforces the impact of the Republic of Cyprus, maximizes the footprint of our diplomatic effort.”
“Our aim is both to expand these schemes, with the introduction of other countries in them, as well as the deepening of the current schemes. We have reached a stage at which the establishment of these schemes has to move to the stage of concrete results. These results will give an impetus to further reinforce the role which these schemes have. We are holding discussions with partners that participate in these schemes to do both, deepen them, and reinforce them in the cases that this is needed, with the presence of other states of the region. There is interest in this, but the right way forward is to schedule these things in a way that will bear concrete results,” the Foreign Minister said.
Moreover, he noted that “the 3+1 scheme is of particular political importance and we discussed this issue during the recent trilateral meeting with Israel and Greece which we hosted in Nicosia.”As he said all three countries have had the unanimous approach as regards the need and the usefulness of the US participation, and concrete decisions were taken “on how to facilitate this participation, how we can materialize it in the immediate future. Therefore, this is not just our expectation or objective. This is something which also Greece and Israel share,” he added.
Cyprus relations with the US
Asked about the bilateral relations between Cyprus and the US, the Foreign Minister said that “the relation with the US stands at an excellent level. There is cooperation in a range of fields, starting from defence and security. There are issues in which it would be inconceivable to think during the very near past that it would be possible to have cooperation with the US,” he added.
“There are objectives which we jointly pursue and which, if and when they are achieved, will have a very important impact both on the level of the relations and on citizens themselves. Therefore, this is a dynamic relationship which continuously evolves. And it is a relationship based on concrete results as well,” he added.
The Foreign Minister also referred to the “Cyprus Center for Land Open Seas and Port Security” (CYCLOPS), a Republic of Cyprus-owned training facility situated in Larnaca, that was established in close cooperation with the government of the United States, as the funding for its construction and technical equipment was provided by the US State Department’s Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) program, noting that during its 11-month operation is has hosted approximately 800 individuals from various countries who were there for training purposes. This project was established with the contribution and the tangible support of the US, Kombos said.
Asked if he is planning to pay a visit to the US, the Foreign Minister said that this is an issue being discussed with the US Embassy in Nicosia and between the Cypriot Embassy in Washington and the State Department. “This matter is in the pipeline,” he added noting that it would be significant for such a visit to yield concrete results.
To a question about the discussions with the US for visa abolishment, Kombos said that this is a strategic objective. He went on to note that this is a particularly technical issue that has been pending for years. “Concrete action has been taken in coordination with the US side towards this direction since we took over the administration of the country. We are reservedly optimistic that this could be an example in which a positive outcome will reform these relations even more and will benefit citizens,” he noted.
Invited to say when the visa abolishment could be materialized, the Foreign Minister said that this a technical issue with requirements that are under review and amendment. He noted that what is more important than when this is going to happen is the fact that both sides have the will to coordinate and cooperate, that this is a common objective. “Until recently this was our goal. And it is very different now that the other side also shares this objective,” he noted.
Visit to Israel
Asked about the visit which Cyprus President, Nikos Christodoulides, will pay to Israel, on May 10-11, accompanied among others by Kombos, the Foreign Minister said that “Israel has a particular role to play in the region and more broadly. For us this is a strategic relation.”
He recalled that he has hosted the Foreign Minister of the country in Nicosia and that a trilateral meeting with the Foreign Minister of Greece also took place, adding that “for us this relation is so important that it must grow and deepen on a daily basis. And this visit aims exactly at this,” he added.
According to Kombos, the two sides will discuss bilateral issues, the progress of the two countries’ relations, the potentials ahead, having always in mind the parameter of the trilateral cooperation and how this can be utilized.
Moreover, the Foreign Minister noted that during the trilateral meeting with the Foreign Ministers of Israel and Greece they discussed Cyprus’ accession in working groups of the Abraham Accords. “Therefore, there are concrete issues that are now underway and need to be re-examined at the highest political level, to take stock of their progress and to have explicit instructions that we are moving towards this direction,” he added.
The Foreign Minister also said that Cyprus President’s initiative on the Cyprus problem regarding a more active EU involvement in it, is being discussed at all meetings and this will also happen in Israel. “There are many bilateral issues discussed with Israel in many sectors. Issues related to the defence sector are very important. There are also economic issues, issues of economic cooperation. There is a range of issues on the agenda with Israel and it is fortunate that we have the potential of discussing issues of mutual interest which include, but do not only concern the Cyprus problem,” he added.
Modernization of the Foreign Ministry
Asked about the actions taken with a view to modernize the Foreign Ministry, as on the issue of digitalization, Kombos said that there is a process underway for the modernization of the Ministry, and this cannot be done from one day to another.
“This is an ongoing effort, to which the EU contributes as well. Funds have been provided for the digital transition, the modernization and the transformation of the Ministry, and we are particularly pleased for this support,” he added.
Moreover, he said that they are in the process of reviewing the structure of the Ministry in order to respond to the current needs of the diplomatic service, adding that there are also serious issues and challenges to be addressed as the Ministry is understaffed. As a result of this, Kombos said, 34 of Cyprus' 54 embassies operate with just one member of the Ministry’s staff.
The Foreign Minister stressed the need for the Ministry to become more flexible and change its structure, taking also into consideration that the country will hold the EU Presidency during the first half of 2026.
Furthermore, he said that they have been looking into a proposal to change the way in which enlightenment on the Cyprus problem is taking place with a view to have a specific strategy on the goals set out each year, adding that this will take place taking into consideration the strong presence of overseas Cypriots in certain capitals and how this can be further utilized.
The Foreign Minister also said that there is no efficient and effective presence of Cyprus in Africa, where only three diplomatic missions of the Republic are currently operating, adding that they are looking into ways of addressing this issue.
He further said that Cyprus will open embassies this year in Argentina, Bahrain and Indonesia.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37% of its territory.
ENDS, CYPRUS NEWS AGENCY
For Part A of the interview, click here