MGR: In 2020, Cyprus and Israel celebrated their 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations. This relationship has been developing since then, and now the two Eastern Mediterranean neighbours are close allies, business partners and warm friends. 1) How do you view Cyprus-Israel relations. 2) What are the benefits of this close relationship for both countries?
MoFA: As you have mentioned, our diplomatic relations were established in 1960, right after the independence of Cyprus. As young, democratic neighbouring states in a troubled region, our ties have been cordial. There is no doubt, however, that during the past few years, our bilateral relationship has evolved in such a manner and I am happy to say that we consider Israel to be one of our closest strategic partners.
We are currently cooperating on a wide array of issues, from security and counter-terrorism, to energy and innovation. As the recent visit of President Anastasiades to Israel underscores, we are continuously working both on deepening this cooperation and expanding it to new sectors, such as the domain of health, where the COVID pandemic has demonstrated that on one hand, there is a great need for cooperation and at the same time that there is untapped potential that could benefit both our countries.
Our neighborhood remains volatile; in this sense, a close partnership between Israel and Cyprus, founded on our shared values, provides us with a framework where we can have frank exchanges, identify common interests and unite our respective strengths, with the aim of creating security and stability in the wider region.
To this end, we are using existing synergies, such as our trilateral cooperation mechanism with Greece and we are constantly trying to forge new ones, including as many countries as possible in our cooperation schemes, either from the broader Middle East or from the EU. This will on one hand foster dialogue and understanding between all parties involved and at the same time will highlight the geopolitical importance of the wider region and alter preconceived notions of our region.
“I would like to re-iterate here that our relations with Israel are solid and it is a priority to develop them even further. Geography is of course destiny, but Cyprus and Israel are more than just neighbors”
Nicos Christodoulides – Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus
MGR: How will Cyprus-Israel relationship develop in 2021 and beyond?
MoFA: We see our relationship with Israel as one with a vast possibility.
Beyond untapping the potential of our bilateral cooperation in all fields, we are setting up a permanent secretariat for all our trilateral cooperation mechanisms, which will help to establish a solid framework for these mechanisms, and thus facilitate their expansion and deepening. I am happy to say that the added value of these mechanisms, and especially our trilateral cooperation with Israel and Greece has already been recognized, and as a result, the US have expressed their interest to form an ad-hoc 3+1 scheme, where we will be jointly working on files of common interest. All sides are currently engaged in determining the agenda and I am certain that this will shape the future of our relationship.
Additionally, there have been recently very positive developments on the regional level, such as the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum and the Abraham Accords, which add to the existing impetus of creating a positive agenda encompassing the wider MENA region. We have stressed our readiness to be a part of the initiatives resulting from the Accords, since I strongly believe that the normalization agreements contribute to regional security and stability and creates a conducive environment for cooperation, producing tangible outcomes for our citizens.
MGR: What is the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Cyprus Economy? Can you tell us a few words on the future outlook?
MoFA: Without a doubt, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused enormous socio-economic challenges on all countries around the globe. The current global economic crisis we are facing is described by analysts as the worst since the Great Depression. Cyprus has adopted strict measures of containment at an early stage, in an effort to safeguard public health. At the same time, we have adopted a generous and comprehensive fiscal package to support businesses and mitigate the impact on employment. The economic outlook, following an unavoidable contraction of around 5.1% of GDP in 2020, is optimistic with a projected growth of around 3,5% in 2021.
Our Government remains committed to achieving macroeconomic stability, maintaining prudent fiscal policies and establishing a competitive and business-friendly environment. In this framework, the Government is focusing on promoting structural reforms to strengthen the resilience and the competitiveness of the economy through green and digital transition, fully utilizing the relevant EU mechanisms.
Furthermore, as part of a package of incentives to promote our country’s economic recovery, investors are able to enjoy a favourable investment environment and a Fast Track Business Activation Mechanism for setting up a business in Cyprus by third-country nationals, in effect since September 2020. In addition, Cyprus’ competitive advantages which include a modern legal system based on common law, its EU membership and, a highly qualified human capital system, contribute to the country’s investment attractiveness. There are currently numerous opportunities for investments on the island, in sectors such as banking, shipping, retail, pharmaceuticals and energy, as well as greenfield real estate projects in hospitality and tourism, higher education and healthcare.
MGR: What is your final message to our readers regarding Cyprus, and the future of its relations with Israel?
MoFA: I would like to re-iterate here that our relations with Israel are solid and it is a priority to develop them even further. Geography is of course destiny, but Cyprus and Israel are more than just neighbors; our strong cooperation, both bilaterally or within a regional context, is based on common values and on a shared vision for a stable and secure region, based on a positive and inclusive agenda. In this sense, our relation is of strategic importance, and on this basis we shall continue to work hard to develop it further.
To this end, it is vital to encourage more people-to-people contacts, and I am sure that these will resume to their previous, if not higher levels, once we have effectively controlled the spread of the pandemic.