The government has placed the strengthening of relations with Qatar high on its list of foreign policy objectives. Some six months ago President Nikos Christodoulides visited Doha and on Monday the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hammad Al Thani arrived on the island for his first ever visit to Cyprus.

The Emir was accompanied by a delegation of ministers who engaged in discussions with their Cyprus counterparts on prospective cooperation between the two countries on economic and investment issues as well as tourism. Welcoming the Emir at the presidential palace, Christodoulides said that the two countries “have very strong relations, but there are many prospects for further strengthening bilateral relations, as well as our cooperation in the region.” 

No specifics regarding the visit were announced and comments by the two leaders appeared to have been rather general except a rather inappropriate and undiplomatic comment made by Christodoulides. After talking about the prospects of strengthening bilateral relations, the president told the emir, in all seriousness, “at the same time, you can consider Cyprus, a member state of the EU, as your ambassador in Brussels.”

It was an incredibly embarrassing thing to say, especially publicly, no matter how much the president wanted to impress the Emir. The Cyprus Republic should not offer ambassadorial services in Brussels to any state, regardless of how close relations are. Some of our EU partners might, for whatever reasons, not want Cyprus to promote Qatari interests in Union. Should we not defer to them instead of the president declaring that he would act as the ambassador of Qatar in the EU?

We would have thought the president, after a long career at the foreign ministry, would be more in verse with diplomatic language. He should be ultra-cautious about what he says in public, especially after years of Cyprus being accused of acting as Moscow’s ‘ambassador’ in Brussels; it had even been referred to as a ‘Russian fifth column’ in the EU.

Before we have managed to completely discard this label, the president is offering to be another state’s ambassador, as if this were normal diplomatic practice. Was he so eager to impress the Emir that he offered to support Qatar’s interests in Brussels? Qatar is a very wealthy country, and it is understandable the president wants to strengthen relations with it, but there are limits to how this should be achieved.

The president should have been aware of these limits instead of making promises that undermine his personal standing as well as the credibility of the Republic. Cyprus should never again offer to be any state’s ambassador to the EU – that is not our role as a member state.