January 17, 2019

Speech by Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis at the Hellenic Bankers Association’s Annual Charitable Event

It is with great pleasure that I am here today to share with you some of my views and thoughts about current developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus ‘ potential role in this area of the world.

Cyprus , positioned in the top right hand corner of the Mediterranean and at the South Eastern corner of Europe, located between Europe, Asia and Africa , rightly claims to be a stepping stone to three continents. Cyprus has played a leading role in the history of the Eastern Mediterranean and its history is one of the most ancient in the world with a civilization dating back 10000 years. Cyprus ‘s strategic location at the crossroads of three continents has been a major factor in shaping its history throughout the centuries. Upon its membership into the European Union, it has been transformed into a key outpost of the Eastern Mediterranean .

In the early 1990s, Mediterranean security was a peripheral concern for strategists and policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic ; but today Mediterranean issues have regained a central position in strategic debates. The post September 11th emphasis on counter-terrorism, the war in Iraq, the uncertainty over the Iranian question, the crisis in Lebanon and the deterioration of the situation in the Middle East have accelerated the shift of attention from European to Middle Eastern Security. If one adds the question of the route of the new pipelines transporting oil and gas from the oil rich countries of the former Soviet Union and of Transcaucasia to the West and the more general problem of energy supply and utilization of energy as a weapon, one realizes more than ever, the pivotal role of our area.

The important location of the Eastern Mediterranean and its special place in this new environment reflects naturally on Cyprus ‘s strategic importance in numerous dimensions which we will be referred to later on, that are further reinforced by its EU membership.

The huge and successful humanitarian effort undertaken by Cyprus during the crisis in Lebanon , proves the point I have just made. Cyprus , indeed, played an invaluable role during the Lebanese crisis last summer, offering logistical support to a major international humanitarian operation by becoming a staging area for evacuations, utilizing airports, ports and other facilities. It is estimated that more than 60,000 nationals from a wide variety of countries, among them 2,500 Americans, were transported from Cyprus back to their countries. Cyprus mounted a very complex effort to accommodate the arrival of the refugees with schools and the Nicosia State Fair ground being made available for their accommodation and with the entire civil service of Cyprus working day and night. The evacuation of people was truly a very complicated endeavor because it required the consent of the Israelis for the securing of sea corridors at fixed hours. We provided volunteers, doctors, psychologists and our facilities were stretched to their limit. But at the end of the day, the whole operation went flawlessly.

Since the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1701, the role of Cyprus in the deployment of the reinforced UNIFIL became even more prominent. The Andreas Papandreou air-base in Paphos, was used by various countries participating in the operation. Furthermore, European countries participating in the maritime and naval component of the operation are using the port of Limassol , as the base for their fleet and have entered into bilateral agreements with Cyprus in this regard. We expect that those bilateral arrangements will be followed by a broader agreement (SOFA) on the status of those UN forces in Cyprus .

The crisis in Lebanon highlighted Cyprus’s emerging strategic role in this turbulent region and emphasized a number of factors that could altogether enrich Cyprus’ importance in the area, from the economic and trade fields to the cultural, social and political spheres. Its key contribution as a stable, European democracy in a volatile and strategic region is further underscored by its membership to the European Union with the Government participating in shaping the relevant European policy.

One of the arguments given in favor of Cyprus ‘s accession was that such a development would positively contribute to achieving both the specific and broader objectives of the Union . Extending enlargement to the Mediterranean was not simply a balancing move vis a vis enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe, it was a necessity dictated by the policy options already decided upon and applied by the Union, aiming at consolidating peace and stability by extending the policy frontiers far beyond those physical borders of the Union. The Lebanon crisis and the role of Cyprus in the evacuation of EU citizens to safety from the conflict areas, have proved the validity of that argument.

The accession of Cyprus to the EU, has contributed to the political, economic and military expansion of the Union towards our area and Cyprus has become its bridge to the Middle East . Furthermore the strategic importance of Cyprus as an alternative, in relation to Turkey , access to this area is becoming more and more apparent. This of course aggravates Turkey because it diminishes her own strategic importance and capacity to monopolize her position, in order to blackmail and receive any trade-offs she wants. I would like to remind you, that the Annan Plan would have completely abolished Cyprus as an alternative access to this area, thus fully serving the interests of Turkey . Regarding this specific matter, I earnestly continue to believe as already stated in my article published in the Greek Newspaper Kathimerini , one week ahead of the referenda , that the USA ‘s interest also lies in maintaining and promoting Cyprus as an alternative access point. Therefore, I concluded that their approach was shortsighted, unless they believed that they would be adequately served by the presence of the British Bases. This certainly is an illusion. Objectively, Cyprus has proven to be the only reliable partner in the area and is emerging as an incontournable [ French term for somebody you have to reckon with] player in this highly strategic area, promoting without hidden agendas and vested interests, a stable and secure Middle East, guaranteeing prosperity and cooperation in the area.

At the same time isn’t it a contradiction in terms for European and American values to rely on the Turkish paradox of military control and tutorship over civil and political society, in order to maintain the stability and western orientation of Turkey ? How long will this artificial respirator last?

To the contrary, Cyprus presents a very attractive prospect if its present capabilities and advantages are considered: A stable democracy and an open society, a member of the European Union and a firm believer in European principles and values. Furthermore, apart from a free market economy, liberal democratic status, and secure legal environment, Cyprus has excellent relations with its neighbors, with both Arab countries and Israel , making it a reliable partner for all types of activities throughout the region. In the same way, our business partners from Europe, our neighbors, find in Cyprus the proper environment for business and other activities, exploiting modern infrastructure and facilities in terms of travel, maritime, air transport and telecommunications.

Cyprus has the third largest fleet within the European Union, with 16% of the total fleet of the 25 EU Member States. The European fleet capacity has increased upon Cyprus ‘ accession due to the Cyprus fleet contribution. This strengthens Europe’s share in the world market and its presence in this strategically and commercially significant field and enhances its voice in the international shipping regulatory bodies (IMO, ILO) along with a stronger position with regard to the entry into force of new regulations or amendments to existing ones. Cyprus will have to install and operate by 2007 a vessel, Traffic Monitoring and Information System (VTMIS), which will have the full capability to monitor, process and provide information on maritime traffic that enters the Middle East border of the EU, with positive effects for the whole region in respect of illegal immigrants, traffic interception, reduction of accidents and protection of the marine environment. One can therefore conclude, that Cyprus has a very important role in the maritime traffic security of the Eastern Mediterranean , being the eastern most country member of the EU, and that will contribute to the decrease of smuggling and illegal immigration.

Firmly believing in cooperation and understanding between Europe and the Mediterranean basin, we have invested great faith and effort in the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. In this regard, in its three main chapters, namely security and stability, economic and industrial cooperation and cultural and human affairs, we have all the more reason to share the Union’s vision of a truly stable and peaceful Mediterranean region, more especially so, in its eastern part and the Middle East .

Cyprus has a strong and vigorous economy and its prospects look even more promising, especially considering that it is emerging as an important centre in the maritime sector and in transit trade. Our policy is to maintain and further promote Cyprus as an international services and business centre, exploiting the comparative advantages of a very sophisticated work pool, the sound business and legal environment, the closeness to the countries of the region and the facilities and connections which will encourage the inflow of investments.

Naturally, as with all international business centers, Cyprus faces the challenge of countering organized crime. To this end, we are in close contact and cooperation with various international institutions, the European Commission, the member states of the EU, the United States and the Council of Europe.

Needles to say Cyprus ‘ important role in the region and its contribution to the overall objectives of the EU will be even greater within the context of a reunited Cyprus .

The solution of the Cyprus problem and the reunification of our country, our society, economy and institutions remain our ultimate goal. Current developments however do not leave room for hopes that Turkey is ready to make the necessary gestures in order to achieve progress, either in the good offices mission of the UN Secretary General or on the EU front. The process of bi-communal discussions at a technical level to address substantive aspects of the Cyprus problem, as well as issues that impact the day-to-day lives of Cypriots is unfortunately stalled because of the Turkish negative approach. In the EU context, Turkey has maintained a policy of confrontation by refusing to meet its obligations undertaken towards the European Union, including Cyprus . Therefore, the progress report Turkey ‘s accession process issued yesterday by the European Commission, takes on added significance.

The report states that Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations and commitments towards the European Union. The Commission warns that failure to implement those obligations in full will affect the overall progress in the negotiations”. It further notes that the Commission will make relevant recommendations ahead of the December European Council, if Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations.

The suspension of Turkey ‘s European prospects would undoubtedly be an adverse development and not without consequence for Cyprus , Europe and for stability in our sensitive region. However adverse and undesirable this possibility, it would be of greater consequence and with far-reaching implications, if Turkey were given the message, that it can continue its accession process unhindered without meeting its necessary obligations.

From the real politik point of view it is certainly in our interest, because as we cannot change geography we should make the best out of it, to have Turkey becoming one day a member of the European family. But we do not want Turkey as it is today joining the Union . We want a European Turkey, a reformed Turkey , in line with EU norms, with a democratic regime, respecting all human rights, the territorial integrity of all EU member states and international and European law,”

We sincerely hope that Ankara will soon realize that there is no middle ground in the process to become a full member of the EU. It either fulfills its obligations or it leaves itself out of the Union . On our part, we remain determined to see Turkey moving forward in a positive manner. It is up to Turkey to reciprocate the constructive and positive approach shown by Cyprus in a concrete manner.