So, how is the first Cyprus EU Presidency doing?

The bird that became a ship, or the ship that became a bird...I returned to Nicosia some two weeks ago after spending 9 days in Brussels. Actually, it’s the second time I’ve been to Brussels in these past two months, meeting people and chit chatting. I don’t have major news to share with you, however as people are always asking me “how is our Presidency doing”, I thought I would put in the extra effort this time and get a feel and some impressions!

Here it goes:

+ So far so good! This is the feeling I got. Till today Nicosia has managed to pull off a decent first Presidency, nothing major to remember it by, but at the same time nothing major happened that Cyprus would have to deal with and possibly not manage. Therefore so far so good. People in Brussels are keeping their fingers crossed that no major crisis happens and we manage the remaining few months just as peacefully… Well, this was actually before the challenges with the EU budget surfaced, but still, I don’t think Nicosia is being apportioned any blame for this situation.

+ On a Brussels level the Presidency is played out by two people, both diplomats:

  • Our very able Deputy Minister of European Affairs Andreas Mavroyiannis who continues to be cloned (as they rightly say) and is a one-man show. Mavroyiannis is proving a good communicator, can speak to any audience, gives answers, keeps a smile on his face. Actually what I was told was that “he knows the various dossiers even better than the ministers in charge”. I suppose it boils down to what I always say: if you know your subject and read and you’re comfortable with yourself then communication becomes much easier.
  • The second person is our equally able spokesman Nicos Christodoulides, who is spending many sleepless hours trying to keep the difficult Brussels press corps happy. As one person aptly put it “40% percent of Cyprus’ good image in Brussels is due to Nicos”. I won’t say more though because I had written a whole blog post about him and then people who don’t know me or haven’t realised what makes me tick may say I’m sucking up…

+ Of course I have heard some stories that are not as positive.

  • The most embarrassing incident I heard goes like this… the chairperson of an important working group sent out the document / proposal the Commission had prepared for the Presidency as a Commission document, which is a faut pas. Normal practice is that the Commission prepares documents for the Presidency which are “touched upon” and sent out as Presidency documents. Now this person, well known and disliked in the Brussels circles dealing with his particular issue, should have known better as he is experienced, or at least always presents himself as highly experienced and actually… indispensible, thus managing a big fat salary (plus pensions – note the plural) and other benefits for him and his family. I will not give away more as then I may as well write the name.
  • I’ve also heard that whereas in general the Cypriots are well prepared, there have been instances where they appeared at what are called the Trilogues (Commission, Council, European Parliament meetings) unprepared. This is something you really can’t hide in these meetings, as the others know their subjects extremely well. And this I’ve heard from different sources. Hey Cypriots,  don’t kick yourselves in the foot… at the end of the day you have been given extra people in Brussels therefore no excuse!
  • As for how we’re doing in other working groups, a well placed source told me: “from some 155 working groups definitely there are chairpersons who are neither here nor there and heavily rely on the people in their team…but you know, it’s Cyprus we’re talking about. 155 groups so imagine the room for mediocrity!!” So true!
  • There is one person about whom I haven’t managed to create an opinion. That’s none other than our Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou Markoulli. The last time I was in Brussels I heard that at least in European Parliament external relations meetings she is always prepared, knows her dossiers, is communicative and people listen to her. As I was told: “despite the fact that she is not the most political of animals she leaves a good impression”. When I shared this with another friend and good source of this blog, the reply I got was: of course she is well prepared, the European External Action Service does the work for her…did you think it was the Ministry!?!
  • What I had heard some time ago, and reconfirmed with various sources, is that our Foreign Minister had turned down an invite to appear on BBC’s Hard Talk…you know, the programme where real journalists ask real questions! I assume she was afraid she was going to be put on the spot with questions about our/her government’s policy, for example mother Russia and our/her/her President’s friend, Assad of Syria.
  • Recently, though, Mavroyiannis dared. And he was extremely good. He came up with answers and came across as honest, with an opinion and positions he was not scared of supporting. For those who haven’t seen the programme and are interested, watch it here.

And something positive: One source actually mentioned the very good way Nicosia handled the thorny issue of Turkey and NATO at a meeting organised by the Parliament in Cyprus. It goes to show that even “thorny issues” can be handled well, when we want, and when we have able people around!!

Sun, sea and good food helps!

As far as meetings in Cyprus go, what people have been telling me is that they have been very well organised, the press facilities are excellent (good job PIO) and everyone is really being “filoxenos” (hospitable), to borrow an expression Mavroyiannis often uses (well, actually, I think it’s his idea, so I must credit him). One thing this Presidency has proved (even though I must admit I had my doubts…) is that yes, we are a good holiday destination…and many people coming for meetings try to add on a few days to go around, enjoy the sun, sea and good food! Of course good working conditions and preparation help create good impressions.  I’m sure you will get the odd meeting where things didn’t go well, but, hey… isn’t that to be expected?!?

I was telling a friend of mine about this holiday destination image and his spontaneous reply that made me laugh was: well, get serious, what else can we offer apart from sun and sea…

Dear readers in “western” Europe..it is November here and 24C!!!

When discussing this question of Cyprus’ first EU Presidency and our image, some friends say: “maybe expectations were low, so now everyone is ‘pleasantly surprised’”.

Yes, there is a valid point there. But, whatever the case, I hold on to the fact that we’re pulling through, people are dedicated and doing a great job!  Let’s hope some of the “must do’s” because of the Presidency rub off and there are some positive changes, especially within the civil service!

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