The Developing Relations between Israel, Cyprus, Greece and other stakeholders

11 Νοέ 2019


Keynote Address by the President of the Democratic Rally, Mr. Averof Neofytou at the 2nd International Policy Conference of ELNET with the theme “Facing Security Challenges: European and Israeli Perspective”

“The Developing Relations between Israel, Cyprus, Greece and other stakeholders”

Sunday, November 10th 2019, Hotel Salomon de Rothschild, Paris, 9:00am


Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

It is with great pleasure and honor that I address the prestigious Second International Policy Conference of the European Leadership Network.

A conference that materializes ELNET’s scope to bring together leaders who believe in the importance of close relations between Europe and Israel, based on shared democratic values and common interests. 

Dear Friends,

When in 1994 in Cyprus, the late Glafkos Clerides’ administration, with Alekos Michaelides as Foreign Minister, opened an embassy in Israel, it set the bilateral relations of the two countries on another level.  

A wise as proven decision, it was at the time faced with reservations, even with suspicion. And perhaps not without justification since then and for decades before, public opinion was influenced by the zero-sum theory. That improving relations with one country will create problems in the relations with another country.

Over time this Cold War era notion proved to be incorrect. International Relations operate eventually on another level, under the principle that "regardless of the relationship between two parties, a third party may maintain equally good relations with both parties".

This is precisely the path chosen by the Glafkos Clerides administration then. A path that proved to be – and is until today - the better route. Cypriot administrations have correctly continued to invest on this path, while prejudices still held as recent as just a few years ago. Even seven or five years ago when some of us were writing articles in the press supporting that Israel remained "our forgotten neighbor" with whom we have to "reconnect".

In order to create those relationships that will allow us to jointly benefit from a long list of areas where we can work together to create a mutually beneficial environment, relations must flourish not only at state level but especially at the level of individuals and entrepreneurs.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We live through times of challenges in the region of the Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus in particular. These challenges are not merely Cypriot issues. They are important European issues with great benefits for Europe particularly in regards to its security.

Our region is rich in conflicts and geostrategic challenges. The severe humanitarian and refugee crises have increased migration flows. At the same time, the energy potential has turned the global energy spotlight on the region. New horizons for bilateral relations in the region are opening for Cyprus and the European Union, creating conditions for wider synergies. The geopolitical map is changing. Indeed geopolitical challenges increase the need for a stability pillar in the region.

The strategic objective is to transform the Eastern Mediterranean. From a region of conflict into one of stability, security and prosperity. As such, regional and international actors like the European Union, have a role to play to safeguard the stability of the region.

In direct contrast with what was considered in earlier decades, today no one considers that Israel is "the problem" destabilizing the region. On the contrary, in this cloudy and foggy environment of the Eastern Mediterranean, if two countries stand out, these are Cyprus and Israel. Two democratic countries, with a stable political environment and a common concern for security and balance in the region.

Dear Friends,

Cyprus’ narrative for the Eastern Mediterranean is one of strengthening its role as a geostrategic bridge under the principle of strengthening collaboration and cooperation.

Utilizing Cyprus’ unique geostrategic location and long - standing historical ties of friendship, cooperation, and mutual understanding with all neighboring countries, except Turkey. Working methodically in deepening our ties and building cooperation that yields tangible results, beneficial not only for the countries involved but also for the region as a whole. And bringing to the European table our bridging role.

The trilateral cooperation mechanisms promoted with Greece and key players such as Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon are core to this. They serve as a model of regional dialogue, contributing to the consolidation of peace, stability and prosperity. They also serve as a tool for achieving greater understanding and cooperation on all levels. There is no doubt that these initiatives will contribute to regional security, but also to the security of the European Union and its citizens.

Our actions are underpinned by a long term vision for our region that we believe is important also for Europe. We see significant added value in increasing EU involvement in the region. We believe that Cyprus, a member state of the European Union with excellent bilateral relations with its neighbors and a deep understanding of the dynamics of South East Mediterranean, can be a catalyst in this direction.

The Eastern Mediterranean energy prospects are a game changer creating potential wider convergences, cooperation and investment opportunities. It can become a tool of cooperation that would contribute in meeting the energy security needs of the region and that of the EU and gradually contribute to greater stability in relations among neighboring countries and promote security and peace. The agreement for the export of Israeli gas to Egypt, are concrete examples of the role of energy in strengthening regional relationships.

Cyprus can indeed play an important role in de-risking energy exploitation in the region and be the reliable and credible pillar of political, energy and economic cooperation and a link between Europe, Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Enabling increased energy security for Europe through diversification of sources.

In fact the energy developments in our region triggered the trilateral cooperation mechanisms. Realizing our strategy to create synergies and forge closer cooperation with moderate countries of the region in a broad range of areas: from political and economic cooperation to security, energy, education and innovation, agriculture.
A central pillar of the trilaterals is that they have a positive agenda, and are indeed an instrument for promoting cooperation. Moreover, they constantly evolve in areas where there is a comparative advantage, including broadening the trilateral format to bringing in additional partners in specific fields. Such as Italy and the European Commission in the discussions of cooperation on energy related issues. France on the creation of a new cooperation formation in the region and security issues, and the USA on issues of energy and security.

The fact that the trilateral mechanisms have attracted the interest of other countries is a recognition of their success and of the growing understanding that this form of regional cooperation contributes to collective efforts to address challenges. 

The decision to create a Permanent Secretariat in Nicosia for the Trilaterals will solidify the progress achieved and create additional momentum forward.

While Cyprus is in the forefront of institutionalizing partnerships in the Eastern Mediterranean aiming to establish conditions of peace and stability in our region. At this same time, it is a fact that Turkey’s increased aggression in the region and against Cyprus poses a serious destabilizing threat.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

A few years ago, I called for the need to remember our “forgotten neighbor”. I stand before you, able to repeat that our once forgotten neighbor offers itself as one of our most reliable partners.

The ties between our countries have always run deep. And I am indeed very proud to be part of a country, whose people offered selfless assistance to the Holocaust victims fleeing Europe after the Second World War.

Such friendships that originate from honest human principles set the basis for forging true strategic alliances. And most importantly, bringing our peoples even closer.

Dear Friends,

I would like to thank you again for the honor to address you. I would like to thank you again for the privilege to speak at this prestigious forum. I wish every success in the proceedings and look forward to the discussion.