By Stefanos Evripidou
CYPRUS-UK relations have had their fair share of ups and downs over the years, but according to President Nicos Anastasiades, they are “undeniably resilient” and currently on a very positive run.
Speaking at a British High Commission reception last night on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday, Anastasiades highlighted the 800-year-plus history of UK-Cyprus relations.
“Our relations date back to the twelfth century, when Richard the Lionheart came to Cyprus, and is a relationship of undeniable resilience, since it is a relationship of mutual necessity and decisive potential.”
The president referred to his official visit to London earlier this year which gave “new impetus to a very dynamic cooperation, with practical deliverables”.
He hailed the “historic” agreement reached between Cyprus and the UK to allow commercial development in an area of about 200 square kilometers of British bases territory, providing, for the first time since Cyprus’ independence, an overall framework for property development in the British Bases.
Apart from opening up significant prospects for economic growth, the agreement also provided practical evidence of the two countries’ shared commitment to further develop cooperation in fields of mutual value and reciprocal interest, as well as “cultivate a sense of renewed trust between Cyprus and the UK and our peoples”, he said.
Anastasiades described the UK as a “key partner” to Cyprus, bilaterally, in the EU and the Commonwealth.
“The benefits of this partnership were most aptly demonstrated following last March’s bail in, through, among others, the swift assistance and sharing of best practices provided by the UK in the banking system and in restructuring the public sector.”
He thanked UK Prime Minister David Cameron for the “practical display of solidarity”, noting that as a result relations between the two countries’ were “entering a phase of renewal, as we focus on investing in areas of pragmatic value, which include energy cooperation, education and training, entrepreneurial initiatives, and jointly and effectively tackling asymmetric threats”.
The president’s reference to a sense of renewed trust is no bland platitude but a comment on the clear shift in bilateral relations between the former foes, particularly since his government came to power in March 2013.
Traditionally, thousands of British expats have come to live on the island since independence, while the UK sends hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.
The UK also enjoys the title of favoured education destination for Cypriot students, those who can still afford to go abroad.
Despite that, for decades many Greek Cypriots harboured bitter feelings over the UK’s role as a colonial power during the anti-colonial struggle but also in the development of inter-communal friction on the island, ultimately resulting in the 1974 Turkish invasion.
The UK’s strategic relationship with Turkey was always seen as a zero-sum game for Cypriots, particularly vis-à-vis the Cyprus problem peace talks.
After UK envoy to Cyprus David Hannay used a considerable amount of elbow grease to write the much-maligned Annan plan, relations only got worse.
Before taking office, former president Demetris Christofias famously referred to the UK as Cyprus’ “evil demon”.
However, since Anastasiades’ election, his government has gone out of its way to show its pro-west, pro-EU and even pro-NATO credentials, working closely with the US and Israel on counter-terrorism initiatives, following the Anglo-American line on Syria, expressing intent to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace, and acting as the west’s go-to person for contact with a post-Morsi Egypt.
The country’s foreign policy no longer seems dominated by a single issue- the Cyprus problem. The president’s support for the Annan plan ten years ago did not go unnoticed by western powers either.
In the last year, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides has met with his American counterpart twice, while US Vice President Joe Biden visited Cyprus, marking the first such official visit in 52 years.
When Anastasiades visited Cameron in London, clinching a long overdue deal on development of private property in the British Bases, he also secured a joint communiqué reaffirming Britain’s commitment to a Cyprus settlement based on UN Security Council Resolutions and EU principles.
Nothing new there, but the timing of the statement during intense negotiations on a joint declaration between Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot Dervis Eroglu was deemed significant.
According to government sources, British High Commissioner Matthew Kidd deserves a lot of the credit for the recently enhanced relations between Cyprus and the UK, having worked quietly but methodically to develop areas where the two countries have common interests.
During last night’s reception, Anastasiades personally thanked Kidd and his associates “for their diligent contribution” towards renewing bilateral relations.
He expressed gratitude to Kidd, who is soon to leave Cyprus, “for all his tireless efforts towards enhancing Cypriot-British relations, admittedly a task not without its challenges”.
He added: “Matthew’s remarkable dedication is indeed commendable as the prolific results of my official visit to London, certainly prove.”
In a separate development, one of Anastasiades’ associates at the presidential palace, journalist and historian Makarios Drousiotis released a book earlier this month titled ‘The invasion and the big powers’, where he documents US archives on the invasion and the role played by the big powers.
One of Drousiotis’ conclusions is that the UK did a lot more to try to overturn the nasty developments of that summer in ’74 than any other power.