FOR THE LAST couple of years, the government, led by Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides, has shown exceptional skill in marketing its foreign policy to the Cyprus public. The trilateral alliances, we were told, had given Cyprus a significant strategic role. Through multi-level diplomacy the country’s regional significance had been upgraded and it was on the way to becoming a regional energy centre and a pillar of regional stability. It was a good sales pitch, easily bought by the public who were eager to believe that we could punch above our weight, but it was not destined to last.
All these boasts have been exposed as empty words by Turkey’s unlawful actions in the Cypriot EEZ. Turkey has been sending drill ships and carrying out surveys in Cyprus’ EEZ for about a year and neither our upgraded regional significance nor our new-found strategic role have stopped it. These actions have been condemned by our EU partners, the US and a few other countries but this had not deterred Turkey. Neither did the innocuous, targeted measures taken by the EU against Turkey to show an element of solidarity with Cyprus. These were designed not to antagonise Turkey rather than as punitive measures or real sanctions as the EU was not prepared fall out with a major trading partner over a dispute that could have been resolved by a Cyprus settlement
It was therefore no surprise that Akel leader Andros Kyprianou asked questions of the government with regard to its foreign policy. The government “raised the bar of expectations in relation to what Cyprus should expect from the international community too high, either from the trilateral alliances, or the US or the EU against Turkey’s aggression,” Kyprianou said. “These expectations have been proved wrong,” he added. He gave an example of the government’s tactics. Before last Monday’s video conference of EU foreign ministers in which the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also to participate, the foreign ministry was leaking to the media information that there would be a joint US-EU declaration condemning Turkey’s actions and that the issue of more sanctions against Turkey would be raised among EU foreign ministers.
Nothing of the sort happened. Pompeo’s participation focused on Libya and China, according to reports. After the video conference the High Representative of EU, Josep Borrell, said Cyprus and Greece were right to complain about Turkey’s drilling “very near their coastlines”, but with regard to Turkey he said the foreign ministers “agreed on de-escalation and for return to true partnership.” The matter would be discussed at the next foreign affairs council, when “we will put the issue of our relations with Turkey taking into account all aspects of this complex relation.” This could hardly be described as an indication the EU was considering imposing more sanctions on Turkey, as the government had been telling the media.
Akel’s criticism was too close to the truth, exposing the empty rhetoric, for the government to let it go, but in responding to the criticism, it strengthened the opposition party’s case. “It is worth noting that through the daily statements by Akel, which are dominated by personal attacks against the foreign minister, the opposition party ‘forgets’ to highlight and make criticism of Turkey’s expansionist policy against Cyprus,” said spokesman Kyriakos Kousios. Is there anyone in Cyprus that is not aware of Turkey’s expansionist or aggressive policy and needs to be informed about it by Akel? Is everyone supposed to go on about Turkey’s unlawful actions so they do not have to talk about the government’s foreign policy, which is geared exclusively for domestic consumption and winning plaudits from a large section of the media?
The raising of expectations and the big words by the foreign minister who labours under the illusion that diplomacy and foreign policy is conducted in the media, have achieved nothing apart from raising his personal profile. Even the government slogan, repeated ad nauseam, that Cyprus is a pillar of regional stability does not stand up to rational scrutiny. Events in the Eastern Mediterranean do not support this assertion, even if Turkey’s unlawful and aggressive actions are to blame for the instability in the region. Turkey, on its part, justifies its illegal actions, by accusing the Republic of excluding the Turkish Cypriots from its energy plans, an argument that is not dismissed outright by the international community.
We certainly should strive to become a pillar of regional stability and this should be the objective of our government’s foreign policy, but this will not be achieved by being in constant dispute with the region’s biggest power. We will become a pillar of regional stability and peace when we finally reach an agreement with the Turkish Cypriots and normalise relations with Turkey. It is not an easy or popular path to pursue but pragmatic foreign policy should be about achieving goals that would benefit the country in the long term and not about creating false expectations that will receive praise in the local media.