European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday she is “so proud” of President Nikos Christodoulides for his efforts to create a maritime humanitarian aid corridor between Cyprus and Gaza.

Speaking at the European People’s Party (EPP) conference in Bucharest, she expressed pride in the “leadership role” Christodoulides has taken and commended him for “bringing economic development to Cyprus.”

Von der Leyen’s words come as a source close to Reuters said humanitarian aid is expected to set sail from Cyprus “before the start of Ramadan”, which is expected to begin on Sunday evening.

ΠτΔ – Συνέδριο Ευρωπαϊκού Λαϊκού Κόμματος

President Nikos Christodoulides and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the EPP conference in Bucharest

The EPP conference unites centre-right political parties from across Europe, with Christodoulides and House President Annita Demetriou both in attendance.

In his speech to the conference, Christodoulides asked for the EPP’s support “in my efforts to restart negotiations on the Cyprus problem” and thanked them for their “longstanding support thus far”.

He added that the European Union’s member states had “stood in solidarity” with each other on the various challenges the bloc has faced in the past five years, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

He also underlined Von der Leyen’s “catalytic role” and her “stable and capable leadership” in dealing with the consequences of the pandemic, and reaffirmed Cyprus’ support for Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion.

Moving on to the matter of the ongoing crisis in Gaza, he said Cyprus is an “integral part of the region and the closest EU member state to the region,” and that his government has been “working tirelessly since the beginning of the war to plan a maritime corridor to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.”

Returning to the matter of the Cyprus problem, he said “in the coming months, I will rely on the support of our wider political family and of course the leadership of the EU’s institutions, in our efforts for a rapid resumption of negotiations to achieve a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem.”

In her speech, Demetriou addressed the conference on Thursday morning, expressing her pride in this year marking exactly 20 years since Cyprus joined the European Union.

She described Cyprus’ joining of the bloc as the country’s “greatest achievement” and said it “would not have been possible without the catalytic efforts of the visionary founder of Disy, the late Glafcos Clerides.”

She also set out her vision for a “sustainable and strategically autonomous Europe … in the areas of defence and security, technology, householding, agriculture, and more.

“A Europe that stands united as a stronghold of democracy, the rule of law, and peace as a barrier to the populism of the far right and any other radical power.”

The conference is expected to ratify its nomination of Ursula von der Leyen for President of the European Commission – the role she has held since 2019 when she replaced Jean-Claude Juncker.

Christodoulides expressed his support for Von der Leyen, saying “we are proud to stand by her side for the next five years.”

In her speech, Demetriou expressed her and Disy’s “unconditional support” for Von der Leyen, saying that “under her leadership, the EU has remained united in the face of adversity, and her efforts have contributed to maintaining peace, security, and prosperity in our region during unprecedented situations.”

Christodoulides is expected to give an address later in the day, and is also expected to hold meetings with other EPP-aligned heads of government and representatives of European Union institutions.

Von der Leyen has stood unopposed for the EPP’s nomination, but French party Les Republicains have voiced their discontent with her candidacy.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis are expected to announce the results of the vote on Thursday afternoon.

After the end of proceedings, von der Leyen is due to fly to Cyprus on Thursday evening.

She is expected to meet with Christodoulides on Friday to discuss matters related to a maritime humanitarian corridor between Cyprus and Gaza.

After the meeting, she will visit the port of Larnaca’s Search and Rescue centre, before holding a press conference.

Speaking on Wednesday about von der Leyen’s visit, Government Spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said, “what is of particular importance is that there is a growing recognition of the added value of a sea corridor for the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population in Gaza, and this proves that we can deliver humanitarian assistance as soon as possible.”

Despite the EU and Cyprus being in favour of the idea of Cyprus’ humanitarian corridor, Palestine itself seems to be less enamoured.

The country’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday evening it “is convinced that Israel’s insistence on opening sea lanes and preventing the passage of land aid through the existing corridors and entrances is aimed at implementing the occupation government’s plan to perpetuate the occupation”.

It added that Israel aims to “separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip and continue the displacement of our people.”

It said it “condemns the occupation government’s obstruction of the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip, particularly its northern part”, and that it “demands the opening of all crossing points for the entry of humanitarian aid.”

Israeli newspaper Maariv said the country’s government would make a decision over the corridor’s feasibility.