Presidency of the Republic of Cyprus

Never has the European project, our Union of 27 states that stand united in defence of common values and joint vision, been more valuable.

Never have we needed a stronger, more resilient, more competitive Union that is relevant in the daily lives of European citizens and is present as a strong global actor in the geopolitical arena.

Today, we stand proudly at all that has been achieved in the past years.

At the same time, we also stand before a critical juncture for our common home, for the Union. As we look to the future, we have a responsibility to our children, to the generations to come, to lay the foundations and deliver an even stronger Union within Europe and in the world.

As a historian by training, I am always prone to glance inquisitively at the past in order to draw lessons that will inform decisions for the future. If we look back to the last few years, it is fair to say that we could not foresee that a pandemic would be at our doorstep. And yet we faced that challenge, which had an immense impact on our economies and on our way of life. In the face of this unforeseen, unprecedented challenge, the Union, in unity, rose to the challenge under Ursula’s firm and able leadership, which proved to be absolutely key in not only addressing and overcoming the pandemic, but in emerging even stronger.

The pandemic was not the only challenge we have had to face. My generation grew up believing that there was no fragility to the European peace project. And yet, on 24th February, we woke up to a new geopolitical reality with Ukraine – a sovereign European country – invaded, its territorial integrity violated, international legality shattered.

Cyprus, a victim of illegal invasion and half a century of continuous occupation, has stood in an unwavering, unequivocal manner on the right side of history. We stand and will continue to stand with Ukraine and its people as they fight Russian aggression.

Moreover, we have also woken up to the reality that there are no frozen conflicts. The war that is ravaging the Middle East, in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood, at Cyprus’ doorstep, is a tragic proof to that. The European Union (EU) cannot afford not to have a strong voice and a role on what is happening in the Middle East, not only because it is an integral part of the EU as a strategic, global actor, but also because what happens in the Middle East has a serious impact on Europe, from migration to security.

The humanitarian tragedy in Gaza also demands our immediate, urgent attention.

Cyprus, as an integral part of the region and the closest EU member state in the region, has worked tirelessly since the beginning of the war to design a humanitarian maritime corridor for the delivery of a high volume of aid to the people of Gaza.

I look forward to Ursula’s visit to Cyprus tomorrow in the context of opening the maritime corridor. From the very first stages of the initiative, Ursula grasped the vision and value behind it and pulled her political weight and that of the Commission’s behind it. Thank you very much, Ursula.

The discussions we are having in Brussels about a stronger Europe, a more geopolitical and strategically autonomous Union that is a global actor, is not theoretical; it must time and time again be proven in a concrete way.

We must be able as EU to play an active role in dealing with all challenges. In order to materialise the EU’s geopolitical role, first and foremost, we must be able to rely on ourselves, without always depending on external factors. Therefore, the EU’s strategic autonomy must not remain as an abstract idea, but rather a tangible objective to reach. In this regard, building European defence at the Union level can be catalytic. Ursula has shown boldness and decisive leadership on this front as well, and the new industrial defence strategy announced earlier this week is an important step.

Beyond the external threats and challenges, Europe faces a multitude of internal ones. The rise of extremist, illiberal, populist and anti-EU forces threatens to reverse what we have achieved over the years. The only answer to this phenomenon is to build a better Union for our citizens, a Union of economic growth, job creation, competitiveness.

It is up to us to stand firm and defend our values. The values that unite us, the values that differentiate us from our adversaries, the values that make us who we are. And as long as we defend our values, the EPP will remain the biggest political family in Europe and the driving force for Europe’s future.

The EPP has also consistently and prominently stood behind Cyprus in our efforts to reunify the country. I strongly believe that the EU needs to be a catalytic unifying power for its last divided member state that 50 years after the Turkish invasion is still under occupation. In the coming months, I am counting on the support of our extended political family and of course the EU Institutions’ leadership in our efforts towards the speedy resumption of negotiations for achieving a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem.

In concluding, dear Ursula, true leaders are shown at challenging times, at times that require boldness, even audacity and during your term, you stirred the ship in stormy waters and did by building the Union up, through unparalleled tenacity, hard work and determination. We are proud to be standing beside you for the next five years.