Cypriot Commissioner-designate Christostos Stylianides, assigned the portfolio of Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management by President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker, made an excellent impression at his hearing yesterday (30 September) thanks to his commitment, and remarkable resemblance to movie star Omar Sharif.
Stylianides is a dental surgeon by training, but also studied political science, international relations and EU affairs. He was a government spokesperson, an MP in his native Cyprus and ,since May, an MEP in the centre-right EPP group.
In his initial statement, Stylianides said it was a privilege for him to be assigned the humanitarian aid portfolio. This initially seemed to be an exaggeration, as the portfolio was among those other commissioners-designate, such as Romania’s Corina Cre?u, have tried to avoid.
But in his presentation Stylianides proved his commitment to the field, paying tribute to the current holder of the post, Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva. Georgieva managed to transform this portfolio into a showcase for the benefits of EU action in the world. It also was a launching pad for her future duties as Commission Vice President.
The commissioner-designate also said that his ambition was to work with High Representative Federica Mogherini to address the root causes of conflicts. He repeated many times over the hearing that investing in resilience is more effective than crisis response, and said that each euro invested in resilience saved €7 in emergency aid.
Stylianides said he knew what a crisis situation is, referring to his country, which remains divided after Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974. He said he wanted to be “the spokesperson of the most vulnerable” and “the voice of the voiceless”. He announced that, if confirmed, his first visit would be to visit Ebola-hit Western Africa.
The commissioner-designate said Ebola should be addressed as a natural disaster and called the epidemic “a typhoon in slow motion”. His words echoed with the Parliament’s Development Committee, with MEPs showing interest in the issue of Ebola, unlike MEPs earlier in the morning, who failed to ask the commissioner-designate for health Vytenis Andriukaitis a single question about it.
Stylianides speaks good English but choose to speak Greek at the question and answers session, which made the exchange somewhat clumsy. Asked about the budget for humanitarian aid, he appeared to indicate that he would seek a derogation to make the emergency response more rapid.
Asked if military presence should be provided to help the work of humanitarian workers, he insisted that he would continue in the footsteps of Georgieva, with humanitarian aid maintaining neutrality and independence. He also said that he is ready “to negotiate with the devil” to get humanitarian assistance to those in need in remote, forgotten areas.
As the hearing was ongoing, VIPs started congratulating Stylianides on his performance. In particular, Georgieva posted a photo of her watching the hearing from her office. She said that he was “speaking from the heart” and called him “strong, convincing”.
— Kristalina Georgieva (@KGeorgievaEU) September 30, 2014
— EPP Group (@EPPGroup) September 30, 2014
There was buzz created around his hearing after a number of tweets mentioned his resemblance to veteran movie star Omar Sharif, famous among other roles for co-starring with Peter O’Toole in “Laurence of Arabia”.
— Lada Jurica (@lada_jurica) September 30, 2014
Stylianides amentioned several times the political importance of holding the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2016. Turkey plays a key role with respect to the refugee crisis in Syria and an overall positive role in crisis management, which was acknowledged by the Cypriot commissioner.