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20 May, 2024
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Five foreign policy challenges for the new President

What the Christodoulides administration will have to deal with in its first 100 days, and not just

by Yiannis Ioannou

The eighth President of the Republic of Cyprus takes over, as of March 1, exactly where his predecessor, Nicos Anastasiades, left off: That is, at a critical international juncture, due to the war in Ukraine, and just before the crucial elections in Turkey and Greece - with the first case having acquired special interest due to the earthquake that is radically changing the scene in the country. Given the impasse on the Cyprus issue—there have been no talks since 2017—and the tumultuous geopolitical environment in the Eastern Mediterranean, the five challenges for the Nikos Christodoulides administration revolve around the following axes:

-  The Cyprus problem. Given that there hasn't been any communication for the past six years and the way the situation is developing without the appointment of a UN special envoy, the Cyprus issue is unquestionably the most challenging equation. Christodoulides' pre-election statement called for the appointment of a member of the European Council, which is a difficult equation by definition. However, the overall picture points to mobility in the second half of 2023 given the situation in Turkey and Greece as far as the governments are concerned.  Of course, Christodoulides' alliance with groups like EDEK and Solidarity, which fundamentally oppose the IOA in principle, or DIKO, which emphasizes "right content," creates the ideal environment for the first significant crash-test of his administration's cohesiveness. Also to be considered is the political strategy's future in light of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot population.

- Developments in the EEZ. Despite a pause in Turkish illegal drilling in the eastern Mediterranean, it would be foolish to assume that TRAO drilling will not resume in Cyprus (in or near the EEZ) in the near future. The challenge of managing a new wave of crises in Cyprus' EEZ becomes of particular interest given that Nicos Christodoulides set a bar that the RoC passed in the 2019-2020 sanctions for Turkey's illegal exploration.

- Relations with the US and Russia. The RoC's approach to international affairs will be put to the test as it relates to both the historic decision to lift the US arms embargo and the RoC's decision to forbid Russian warships from docking in Limassol. Christodoulides stated in the CEC questionnaire that he "neither agrees nor disagrees with EU sanctions on Russia" during the election campaign. However, during that time, both his political supporters and opponents gave him credit for being personally involved in the US decision to lift the embargo.  

- Relations with the US and Russia. The international orientation of the RoC in relation to both the historic decision to lift the US arms embargo and the RoC's decision to stop Russian warships docking in Limassol will test the intentions and political practice of the Christodoulides government. In the CEC questionnaire, Christodoulides' position, during the election campaign, was that he "neither agrees nor disagrees with EU sanctions on Russia" while during the election campaign, his political supporters credited him with personal involvement in the US decision to lift the embargo while his political opponents credited him with privileged relations with Russia. How he will act on the ground remains to be seen given that both the war in Ukraine will continue into 2023 and the US decision on the embargo has a clause on an annual basis - so it needs to be reviewed.

- The relationship with the EU and credibility. In the field of Nicosia-Brussels relations, the issue for the Christodoulides administration is rooted in both the multiple political and economic challenges for the EU in the midst of the war in Ukraine and the issue of the credibility of the RoC on issues of common interest, foreign policy and sanctions - which has been affected in recent years both because of Nicosia's stance in the 2020 Belarus crisis and in relation to the "golden passports" scandal. Beyond consistency and credibility, serious issues for Cyprus - such as migration - are seen through the prism of Euro-Cypriot relations and how a future reset of Euro-Turkish relations affects Nicosia.

- Defence, security and regional relations. In these areas, there is a huge field of interest in the foreign and defense policy of the Christodoulides government. Pre-election there is a commitment to revive the Single Defence Area (SDA) Doctrine with Greece as well as the corresponding budget for defense needs (beyond salaries) of the National Guard. The two areas will test in practice both the Christodoulides government and - internally - its cohesion in the individual area of party support. At the regional level, trilateral diplomacy, relations with the MENA and Gulf states (Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, etc.) and the geopolitics of energy [given the stagnation in various areas (e.g. the "Aphrodite"-"Issei" agreement, ratification of the EEZ agreement with Lebanon, future of the EastMed Gas Forum, etc.)] but also the volatility in the power dynamics that always exists in the developments in the region, are serious areas of challenge for the new government


In any case, the five policy axes listed are neither unknown nor simple for anyone who follows developments at the international and regional levels, with Cyprus as the focal point. It will also be interesting to see whether the Christodoulides administration will proceed with the legally mandated institutionalization of a National Security Council (NSC) and the further modernization of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs institution, both of which are based on the maximum utilization of human potential as opposed to the micro-political "convenience" that we usually see at the level of semi-governmental organizations in Cyprus.  Finally, any challenge at the level of international diplomacy necessitates broad agreement from both the government and the opposition. There are many dynamics and trends as the political system takes shape on the day after the presidential elections - to name a few.

[This article was translated from its Greek original] 

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