The Cyprus EU presidency: Breaking with tradition


The Cyprus EU presidency in the second half of 2012 will provide political leadership to the Union but “not in the traditional way”, officials say. Rather, it will be a “Brussels-based presidency”, with most of the country's officials operating from the European capital and focusing on EU affairs. Meanwhile, the island's long-standing reunification talks with Turkey will be dealt with on a separate track.

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This is the first EU presidency for Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004 and became a euro zone member in 2008. The country sees its EU stint both as a challenge and an opportunity. As a relatively new member state, it hopes to enhance its image as a credible and responsible member of the Union.

Cyprus assumes the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in difficult times and in a tense atmosphere with Turkey, an EU candidate country that doesn’t recognise and has occupied the northern part of the island since 1974.

Despite the occupation, Northern Cyprus is technically EU territory. The so-called Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic is recognised only by Ankara and its only air link is with Turkey. It is also excluded from international sport, finance and trade, and is heavily subsidised by Ankara.

Turkey stated that it will boycott the Cyprus presidency, or freeze relations with the EU, and even warned that it could annex Northern Cyprus if no agreement was reached on the reunification talks.

Cyprus is heavily exposed to the Greek crisis and is in search of a bailout to salvage its banking system. But the small island doesn't rely exclusively on Europe to solve its problems and could obtain, for the second time, a multibillion euro loan from Russia.

Cyprus is the only country represented at EU summits by a Communist –President Demetris Christofias, who has remained true to his values since he joined the Communist AKEL party in his youth. Christofias has studied in Moscow and speaks Russian fluently. Russia's political presence and economic penetration in Cyprus has no equivalent in any other EU country.

Despite the daunting difficulties, Cyprus wants to help steer the Union in its most important objectives, the first one being the progress of talks to agree the next EU budget for the period 2014-2020.

At the end of a two-day summit (12 and 13 December), EU leaders congratulated Cyprus for its productive presidency. Council President Herman Van Rompuy also praised the president of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, for the “excellent cooperation” between his office and the Cypriot EU presidency.

Van Rompuy praised the presidency for its work in MFF negotiations. “It was indispensable work, even if we will only reach the final deal early next year [2013],” he said.

The Council president gave credit to Cyprus for helping to establish an EU-wide patent, after the European Parliament voted on Tuesday in favour of the plan, ending what Van Rompuy called “a 40-year-long Odyssey”.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso cited other achievements of the Cyprus Presidency as “especially important” - the Single Supervisory Mechanism, Schengen governance and the common asylum system.

The Cypriot president singled out maritime policy as one area where he was particularly proud of progress made.

“With the Limassol Declaration, we have given a new dynamism to the huge possibilities and opportunities that arise from marine and maritime activities in creating new employment,” he said.

He also stressed as a “success” what he called the “timely agreement” for the 2013 EU budget, as well as the agreement achieved the night before the summit on the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) for the future banking union.