The French connection

The French connection


By Christos Meliopoulos – Nicosia

Presidents Hollande and Anastasiades reaffirmed the strong relationship between France and Cyprus following their meeting in Paris.

The two leaders talked about the forthcoming EU summit and the common targets of growth, European banking union and jobs creation. Mr Hollande did of course express his support for Cyprus in these difficult times, making a special reference to the need for solidarity. He promptly added that President Anastasiades confirmed his will to fulfil his government’s promises towards the European partners.

In the ideal world of those that expected Francois Hollande to gallop in the international scene as some kind of a knight on a white horse succeeding Nicolas Sarkozy and terminating the punitive austerity policy implemented in the south of Europe, he would be expected to criticise the excessive force with which the EU handled the Cyprus case, having the president of the country by his side. Leader of the paupers of the south President Hollande is not, hence his continuing compliance to the troika’s policies and subtle reminder of Nicosia’s obligations.

With regards to the Cyprus issue the French president said his country would stand by the Cypriot government in the quest of a sustainable solution based on international law. Mr Anastasiades obliged by reminding of the support Cyprus has always been receiving by France at the Security Council.

Although no one doubts Paris’s attentiveness to international law and would probably not expect from it anything more than similar expressions of support, maybe a tougher approach towards Turkey could be requested. Instead, following Mr Sarkozy’s dethronement the French side has been rather actively promoting the opening of the regional policy chapter in Turkey’s EU entrance negotiations, expected to happen at the end of the month. Reports say that President Anastasiades agreed to grant Hollande the favour of not objecting in exchange for support in all other issues.

Commentators in Nicosia believe that France’s position shift is not as worrying as some might assume, and that it only has to do with changes in mentality at the Elysee Palace – meaning that Turkey should be given a fair chance, albeit not lifting its obligations towards EU member countries. The reports also speak of the Cyprus issue having been raised in recent talks in Paris with Turkish officials, with specific encouragement by the French side to look into returning Famagusta to its lawful citizens.

Subsequently Cypriot officials do not expect this development to signify any change in the French position over the Cyprus issue. In any case they can’t see their government doing anything other than standing firm in defending its national interests; even if it were to cause a clash in the future with ally countries like France.

Whatever strains the Turkey factor could cause in the bilateral relations, they should be sufficiently mended by the cooperation over the energy prospects opening up in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone. The participation of the French giant TOTAL in the exploration of the natural gas wealth chest of Cyprus was regularly mentioned in all talks and statements involving President Anastasiades. This is the added geostrategic value bestowed on Cyprus for getting on the European energy map. In a few years’ time the leaders of the two countries will not just be exchanging respectful affirmations of mutual support, but warm personal compliments.