Presidency of the Republic of Cyprus

Statements by the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister of Greece

The first Cyprus-Greece Intergovernmental Summit took place in Athens on Friday, 10 November 2023, led by the President of the Republic, Mr Nikos Christodoulides, and the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with the participation of a large number of Ministers of the two Governments, during which bilateral cooperation on a wide range of issues of common interest was examined.

The Cypriot Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Defence, Education, Sports and Youth, Energy, Commerce and Industry, Health, the Deputy Minister to the President, the Deputy Minister of Shipping and the Deputy Minister of Culture participated in the bilateral ministerial meetings, which took place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Cypriot delegation included the Government Spokesman.

On the Greek side, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Education, Religious Affairs and Sports, Health, Environment and Energy, Citizen Protection, Migration and Asylum, Climate Crisis and Civil Protection, Culture, Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy, and the Deputy Minister of Defence participated in the meetings.

After the plenary session of the Summit, which took place at Maximos Mansion, following the bilateral contacts of the Cyprus and Greek Ministers by portfolio, the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister of Greece made statements to the media.

In his statements, the Prime Minister of Greece said, “‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ Aristotle’s quote was attested today in this first, official, solemn Intergovernmental Summit between Greece and Cyprus.

With President Christodoulides, we have, thus, implemented the joint decision we took in March, strengthening the inextricable ties between our two countries, coordinating the pace of our Governments in many different fields, but also strengthening the role of Greece and Cyprus, Cyprus and Greece, as security pillars in the troubled Eastern Mediterranean.

The solidarity between Athens and Lefkosia is clearly reflected in the Joint Communiqué on the Cyprus problem, of which the resolution is a firm national priority.

Our aim is the resumption negotiations within the United Nations (UN) framework, because the longer the present situation persists, the more the tension will increase. It is clear that the two-state solution is an entirely unacceptable option to us, and we look forward to the appointment of a new Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, who will explore the prospects for the resumption of negotiations. At the same time, Greece will continue to assist in efforts to stop actions which violate Security Council Resolutions.

As we have discussed many times, the European Union (EU) should also play a role in the resumption of negotiations, taking into account the European Council conclusions of 30 June. It is, and will be, our common goal that the European acquis should be applied throughout the entire Cypriot territory.

In addition, Greece continues its efforts to improve relations with Turkey, always based on good neighbour rules and with respect to international law. We believe, and I am glad that President Christodoulides and I also agree on this, that progress in this area will ultimately be to the benefit of the Cyprus problem.

I will note, however, that almost 50 years since the “wound” of Cyprus opened and Greece was liberated from dictatorship, our states are, for the first time, I believe, opening new horizons in such an organised way, beyond our national issue.

Thus, with this first Intergovernmental Summit, our relations are strengthened and our coordination is now extended through trilateral and multilateral formats within the EU and internationally.

This is an achievement which will have a significant positive impact on life in both countries, first Cyprus and then Greece, which have left behind a period of profound turmoil, moving towards growth, always with willingness to make reforms.

We can, thus, exchange experience and know-how in many areas. For example, let me mention the opportunity that Greece, which has made significant steps in digital transformation, could share with Cyprus the positive experiences of; the cooperation we already have and can further strengthen in the civil protection area, where 112 is a tool which saves lives; cooperation, for instance, in the maritime sector, where we must make a greater effort and, under the EU framework, highlight the importance of Greek and Cypriot shipping as pillars of the strategic autonomy of the EU.

I would like to express once again, Mr President, my gratification with the depth and content of the discussions the competent Ministers had, and to express my satisfaction, albeit belatedly, with an Institution that should possibly have been established years ago. Better late than never. We now, however, have an obligation to work faster and make up for lost ground, because many common experiences, many common initiatives can be developed and I think that they will be mutually beneficial.

An analysis of the dramatic developments in the Middle East could not be excluded from our discussions, of course. President Christodoulides and I were also in Paris yesterday for the Conference organised by President Macron on humanitarian support for Gaza. We once again expressed our deep concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, the risk of conflict spreading to the wider region. Greece and Cyprus support Israel's right to self-defend, but always in accordance with international law and especially in accordance with international humanitarian law, following the unprecedented brutality of the attack on Israel inside its territory.

We do, however, and we will never tire of saying it, separate the terrorist organisation Hamas and its activities from the Palestinian people and their leadership. Athens and Lefkosia are obviously in favour of the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.

We consider it a priority to assist, through humanitarian pauses and aid corridors, in order to support as much as possible those who are most in need today, and that is the civilians of Gaza, mainly women and children. That is why we are present, coordinating every relevant initiative. We are states with geographical proximity in the region, Cyprus even more so than Greece, and we have long-standing relations of trust, both Cyprus and Greece, with both Israel and the Arab world. We are, therefore, both credible mediators in the Middle East.

I want to congratulate President Christodoulides for his initiative to seek maritime humanitarian support routes to Gaza. It is a very well thought-out initiative. I reiterate the will of the Greek Government to participate in a practical way, if we can overcome the many technical difficulties that such an initiative always creates.

And of course we must not forget that the final solution can only be political: a viable two-state solution in accordance with international law and UN resolutions. Otherwise, this troubled zone of the Middle East will continue to produce bloodshed and pain.

I will make a separate reference to the energy sector because I think it is of particular importance. We have reaffirmed our excellent cooperation and the need to promote environmentally friendly forms of energy production.

We also talked about the flagship EuroAsia Interconnector project undertaken by Independent Power Transmission Operator (IPTO), as well as the Presidency of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum that Greece will take over in 2024. I attach major importance to the electricity interconnection project; it is absolutely critical for Cyprus’ energy sufficiency. It is a project that is not just about energy, it has a deep geopolitical footprint and we are glad that we will be more actively involved in its implementation, but also that the Republic of Cyprus will participate in this effort at the supreme level.

The presence of all the competent Ministers from different sectors – Health, Education, Culture, Defence, Migration, Civil Protection – indicates this will of our two Governments for a more upgraded, closer, more practical cooperation with concrete, measurable results.

I want to thank you once again for your presence in Athens, and we look forward to the next Intergovernmental Conference, in Cyprus, a year from now, so that we can set new goals and, of course, evaluate the progress we have achieved during this year.”

President Christodoulides, on his part, said: “It is with great pleasure that I am in Athens, in what I would call a historic meeting, in which we are implementing our joint decision to establish intergovernmental cooperation – High-Level Cooperation Council between Cyprus and Greece. Since our first meeting in March 2023, we not only noted the absence of such an institutionalised cooperation, which both countries have with third countries, but we agreed on the need to establish it and the multi-level benefits that would result from such an institutionalised cooperation. And I am delighted that a few months later, I am in Athens today with 11 members of my Cabinet, 9 Ministers, the Government Spokesman and the Secretary of the Cabinet, at the first Cyprus-Greece Intergovernmental Summit.

I am, thus, particularly happy because our joint decision is taking shape today. A decision which, taking into account what has been discussed and what has been agreed upon during the bilateral meetings of the Ministers, but also at our joint meeting that has just been concluded, is not only of symbolic importance. First and foremost, it is a meeting of substantial importance with concrete results, with action plans to be followed, with deliverables, and with the necessary mechanism for monitoring the implementation of what has been decided.

In this context, today's first Intergovernmental Summit has been particularly productive and effective, and I would like to thank my friend Kyriakos and of course all the Ministers who participated, for the preparation that was done, for the open and frank dialogue which took place, and of course for the substantial decisions that were taken.

Today's meetings reaffirmed the excellent relations and cooperation between our countries on a wide range of topics. At the same time, however, they have proved that ‘better is the enemy of good’ and that there is always scope for strengthening cooperation in specific areas, while in some other areas the expertise of one country can be of decisive help to the other. The example of 112, digital transformation and the digitisation of the Deputy Ministry of Shipping are some of the areas.

Through the Intergovernmental Cooperation between the two countries, we aim to have even better coordination and more enhanced cooperation, not only on foreign policy and defence issues, where that cooperation has been established for decades, but also across the whole spectrum of government work, taking into account the challenges we face today.

In this context, the timing of today's meeting has also determined, to a large extent, the agenda of our discussions. I refer, in particular, to the dramatic developments in the Middle East and their impact on the lives of thousands of innocent civilians. These developments, as well as the general climate of instability in the Middle East, directly affect Cyprus and Greece due to our proximity to the region and the close relations we maintain with all countries. Our two countries, as actors of security and stability in the region, have already taken important actions and made contacts, offering concrete solutions to de-escalate the crisis and address the enormous humanitarian needs that arise.

In this context, we also discussed in depth the initiative to create a sea humanitarian aid corridor in Gaza. I thank the Prime Minister very much for his support, for Greece's readiness to contribute and to participate actively and substantially in this effort. Cyprus and Greece, and this is a decision we have taken today, are not part of the problem, but by taking advantage of the excellent relations with the states in the region, their status as EU member states, they can, and this is exactly what we are trying to do, be part of the solution, providing insight, participating substantially in addressing any challenges that arise.

We also had the opportunity to discuss the latest developments in the Cyprus problem, especially considering the Turkish side’s reaction so far to the UN Secretary-General's intention to appoint a personality to explore the prospects for the resumption of negotiations, as well as the recent developments in the Buffer Zone and the Turkish side's backtracking on the agreed implementation.

Regarding Euro-Turkish issues, in view of the European Council in December, we believe that this is an important opportunity to reiterate to Turkey the message that the prospect of strengthening its cooperation with Europe – something that both Greece and Cyprus really want, we want to cooperate with Turkey within the EU framework – any progress there goes through progress in Greek-Turkish relations and, of course, in the Cyprus problem.

As I mentioned earlier, this first intergovernmental summit was attended by a total of 11 members of the Cypriot Cabinet. I believe that this is yet another indication of the importance attributed to our now institutionalised cooperation.

In addition to the issues I have mentioned, today we have today made decisions on several other issues. Allow me to refer to some of them, because there has been considerable preparation and work by all the Ministers involved, and it is another indication of the seriousness with which they approach this institutionalised cooperation.

On Asylum and Migration issues, it was agreed to set up a joint committee to promote the implementation of the recent EU Action Plan for the Eastern Mediterranean. It is very important that this has been adopted, and even more important to promote its implementation. Greece and Cyprus have an interest, we have common aspirations and we should work for its implementation.

It was also agreed to exchange expertise on reception and hosting structures, with a focus on the operation of centres for vulnerable and unaccompanied minors, as well as to strengthen cooperation in the field of returns.

In relation to Civil Protection and Civil Defence issues, it is important to gain the expertise of the Greek side. At the same time, taking into account what we experienced during the summer, we need to see how we deal with such challenges.

The Greek Prime Minister very aptly referred to Energy issues, where there has long been enhanced cooperation at both bilateral and regional level; for example in the EuroAsia Interconnector and the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum in Cairo. We decided to move forward with the exchange of know-how in the areas of storage, security of electricity grids and 'smart meters', and we will also cooperate on offshore renewable energy issues.

In Education, a sector to which both Cyprus and Greece attach particular importance, we agreed to upgrade the existing cooperation, considering, among other things, the creation of a mechanism for the immediate resolution of problems of our students studying in both countries. On the occasion of my presence here, I met earlier with a delegation of the National Student Union of Cypriots and was briefed on a number of issues they face. I am sure that similar problems are faced by Greek students in Cyprus, and it is important that this mechanism exists to resolve them.

On Culture issues, we have a lot to learn from your expertise, to help the newly established Deputy Ministry of Culture in Cyprus, both in terms of structure and substance.

In the Health sector, we will revise the 1987 Intergovernmental Agreement to reflect today's realities and challenges.

On Shipping, I fully agree with the Greek Prime Minister, apart from the excellent cooperation that exists, that it is important for Cyprus and Greece, Greece and Cyprus, to highlight the importance of European shipping, taking into account the EU's efforts for strategic autonomy and geopolitical developments in general.

Finally, and this is particularly important, the Coordinators of the government project, the Deputy Minister to the President and the Minister of State, exchanged best practices, but I think the most important thing is to monitor the implementation of everything that has been agreed today.

I conclude by reiterating that I am particularly pleased because today we have taken an important step towards further institutionalising and strengthening our cooperation in a more structured way. By holding this first Intergovernmental Summit, the first High-Level Cooperation Council, we are implementing the strategic objective of further strengthening our countries' cooperation mechanisms to respond more effectively to the challenges and issues arising from the constantly changing regional and international environment.

I look forward to hosting you in Cyprus in 2024, at the 2nd Intergovernmental Summit. I am sure we will meet again many times before that.”