President announces digital app among more than 80 policies

President Nikos Christodoulides on Monday announced plans to create a “digital citizen” mobile application, on which people can access government services.

The announcement was made at his “State of the Republic” address at the Presidential palace, during which he listed more than 80 planned governmental policies he hopes to implement within the year. The policies largely fall in line with European Union plans for development and growth.

Christodoulides said the “digital citizen” application will cover “the entire range of digital services a citizen can expect from the state”, including one’s identity card and driving licence in digital form, as well as the possibility of applying for state benefits and official documents.

“It would remove the need to physically go to get them,” he said.

Another major policy announcement came in the form of a planned reduction in the voting age from 18 years old to 17. Such a policy would bring the minimum voting age in Cyprus in line with that of Greece.

In addition to reducing the voting age, Christodoulides said he plans to introduce automatic voter registration for all those who reach the minimum age, removing the need for people to register themselves and thus simplifying the democratic process.

With this in mind, he said he also plans to hold a series of online non-binding polls over various policy matters.

The policies were divided into six sub-topics – named as “the improvement of citizens’ everyday lives”, the economy, “the foundations of a better tomorrow”, “the strengthening of state institutions”, and Cyprus’ role within the EU and its “neighbourhood”.

The “digital citizen” application fell into the “improvement of citizens’ everyday lives” category, where it fell alongside plans such as the reduction in the time required for people to receive their first pension payment after retirement to a maximum of 30 days, and the extension of maternity leave from 18 to 22 weeks.

He also announced a plan for state subsidisation of nursing homes, legislation to combat hate speech on the internet, and a modernisation of the process for adopting children. Additionally, he said the first phase of the National Strategy for mental health will reach its completion within the year.

On the subject of housing, he announced new plans for the construction of affordable housing with a budget of €75 million, while he said the Build to Rent scheme would also be implemented in the spring.

He then moved on to the matter of irregular migration, about which he said “our policy of not looking attractive, it’s bearing results.”

To this end, he said Cyprus is now “number one in Europe” when it comes to returning irregular migrants to their countries of origin, with a 66 per cent increase in returns last year compared to 2022.

He said the government’s aim this year is to reduce the processing time for asylum applications to a maximum of 30 days, and to implement harsher punishments for those caught smuggling people into Cyprus.

In addition, he announced plans to roll out a prepaid card onto which benefits for asylum seekers will be loaded, with the aim of ensuring that those funds are not spent on nefarious ends.

He also underlined the government’s plans to persuade the European Union that parts of Syria are safe, so as to be able to return migrants to those areas.

Moving onto the matter of public transport, he pointed out that there are currently a total of 750,000 registered vehicles on Cyprus’ roads, and that efforts must be made to reduce that figure.

With this aim, he said the “Pame Express” park-and-ride bus service in Nicosia had produced “encouraging results … taking upwards of 400 vehicles off Nicosia’s roads every day.”

He said the government now plans to roll out new park and ride services under the “Pame Express” banner in Nicosia, Limassol, and Larnaca.

In addition, he announced plans to construct 300 new bus shelters and bus stops across the island, as well as more specialised bicycle lanes and bus lanes.

Moving onto the matter of the economy, he pointed to measures implemented last October as evidence that the government is governing in the interests of ordinary people, and said that more targeted measures will be introduced this year as and when needs arrived.

He said March’s budget will be “representative of our priorities, optimistic, reasonable, and far away from populism.”

Additionally, he said he hopes for Cyprus’ primary sector – industries such as agriculture and fishing – to grow from its current 1.8 per cent share of the island’s GDP in the coming years, with further investment incoming this year in the energy, tourism, and education sectors.

As an overall goal, he said, “by 2035, we want this country to be an ideal place for someone to work and to live.”

On the matter of education, he said he hopes to “modernise” Cyprus’ higher education programmes, with the aim of being able to present the country “as a competitive destination for people to come and study.”

He also spoke briefly about Gesy and his hopes to implement plans such as university hospitals and the role of a patients’ advocate, as well as strengthening the ambulance service, and the 112 emergency line, among other ideas.

Moving onto the subject of policing, he said he hopes to reorganise the force and move 350 office-based roles onto the streets.

Finally, speaking about Cyprus’ place in the world, he said he wants Cyprus to be “recognised as a pillar of security and stability in the region.

With this in mind, he pointed out that Cyprus will undertake the presidency of the EuroMed9 group of EU member states in the Mediterranean region, while also hosting the second intergovernmental summit with Greece this year.

Looking ahead, he spoke of his hopes to strengthen the National Guard and “double down on our efforts” to join the Schengen Zone, before moving on to the matter of the Cyprus problem.

He said the arrival of United Nations Envoy Maria Angela Holguin presents Cyprus with “a window of opportunity”, and added that “the status quo cannot be the future”.

He then reiterated his commitment to a bizonal, bicommunal federal solution on the basis of the relevant UN Security Council decisions, and his commitment to resume negotiations from where they were left off in Crans-Montana in 2017.