By Elias Hazou
In a rare display of harmony, the House Foreign and European Affairs Committee has deemed that parliament must retain the power to determine protocol at official functions.
The committee was Tuesday discussing a proposed change to the law on protocol – the order in which officials are addressed and who sits in which row at official functions. The amendment aims to take the power of fixing the list and the order of officials away from parliament and transfer it to the cabinet – essentially to the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Division.
The matter resurfaced after the cabinet’s secretariat in August quizzed the committee on the status of the government’s amending bill, which has fallen by the wayside since 2006.
MPs agreed to put the item on the committee’s agenda, but made short shrift of it, deciding unanimously within half an hour that parliament ought to keep calling the shots on protocol.
Lawmakers suggested instead that if and when the government wishes to make changes to the protocol, it can bring its proposals to them, and they would be more than happy to oblige.
This is more or less how the matter is handled now. For example, when Cyprus had its first MEPs after joining the European Union, it was agreed between the legislature and the government that the MEPs would have equal protocol status as MPs.
“Much ado about nothing,” commented AKEL MP and committee member Nicos Katsourides.
Instead of some staffer at the foreign ministry deciding and changing official etiquette, it’s better for the matter – whenever it arises – to be discussed openly in parliament, he told the Mail.
Back in 2006, the head of the foreign ministry’s protocol division wrote to the House arguing that the protocol at the time was obsolete – it dated back to 1996 – and that moreover it violated “constitutional norms.”
This was because the president of the Supreme Court, the top judiciary, was ranked seventh down the list of officials, whereas he should be listed third or fourth.
Under the protocol at the time – which still stands – the President of the Republic is top of the pecking order, followed by the Archbishop, the House Speaker, party leaders, former presidents, the attorney-general and the president of the Supreme Court.
Another reason then cited by the foreign ministry for amending the law is that the number of officials and public functionaries had increased considerably, and a re-jigging was called for.
Since then, the lineup of officials has swelled even more, thanks largely to the administrations of Demetris Christofias and Nicos Anastasiades, who have created several new posts, including the offices of commissioner for privatisations, a Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs and Affairs of Overseas Cypriots – to name but a few – as well as a raft of presidential advisory councils.
So for the time being who gets the delicate job of deciding seating arrangements for the newly-created officials not accounted for in the protocol canons, at the same navigating a treacherous minefield of fragile egos?
“Simple: the host of the function,” said Katsourides. “It’s worked fine so far.”