The upcoming Presidency of the Council of Europe (CoE) presents a great opportunity for the Republic of Cyprus, says Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, who underlined the potential for a small country, like Cyprus, to upgrade both its role and status while shaping international politics.


In an interview with the Cyprus News Agency, ahead of the assumption of Cyprus` Presidency next Tuesday, Kasoulides notes that Nicosia intends to pursue the common objectives of all 47 CoE member states, as well as promote the policy of the Republic of Cyprus and of its status internationally.


“The Republic of Cyprus is here and a Cyprus settlement means having full sovereignty and independence, without the presence of foreign troops or guarantor rights” the Foreign Minister underlines, in a reference to ongoing settlement efforts that aim to terminate the island`s division.


Nicosia takes over from Estonia on November 22, holding the Chairmanship for the fifth time in its history and the Minister of Foreign Affairs is going to chair all sessions of the CoE Committee of Ministers until May 19, 2017.


“We will stay neutral and objective” during the Presidency – to be held under the general title “Reinforcing Democratic Security in Europe” – Kasoulides says, noting that Nicosia`s focal point will be the promotion of cultural heritage protection.


Asked about Nicosia`s relations with Turkey – also a CoE member state – during the Presidency, the Minister sees no repetition of the 2012 events. Back then, Turkey decided to freeze relations with the EU, as Nicosia assumed the block`s rotating Presidency.


Regarding the attendance of a Ministerial Council that will be held in Nicosia, next year, by Turkey`s Foreign Minister, Kasoulides says he expects his Turkish counterpart to show up, as he did back in 2011 when Turkey chaired the CoE. He adds, however, that “it is up to them to decide”.


Asked how Cyprus will be able to secure an impartial approach, at the same time when various European Court of Human Rights judgments await execution by Turkey, the Foreign Minister explains that monitoring the implementation of ECHR judgments and chairing the Committee of Ministers are unrelated.


“Of course we will stay neutral and objective as a Chair, when its comes to issues that are disputed by member states” he notes. The Minister remarks, however, that there has been so far no problems, similar to those during Cyprus` EU Presidency. “Turkey can under no circumstances suspend its participation in the organization, now that it faces particular problems in implementing the rule of law and in protecting human rights, after the failed coup in the country” he says.


Talking about the protection of cultural artifacts from destruction and from illicit trafficking, the Foreign Minister notes the initiatives undertaken by Cyprus in this area and adds that Nicosia will do everything possible to promote CoE efforts to conclude a new Convention.


Responsible for drafting the Convention is a steering committee, comprising criminal law experts from the 47 member states. On January 13, 2017 a high level meeting has been scheduled in Strasbourg on this topic and Kasoulides is expected to attend along with the CoE Secretary General.


“This meeting will give us the opportunity to promote the subject as a national priority of the Chairmanship of Cyprus,” he underlines.


Other issues on the agenda in the next six months include, according to the Minister, the situation in Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia, the rise of populism, xenophobia and extremism, hate speech and the curtailment of rights due to austerity.


Regular sessions will be held in Strasbourg, the Secretariat of the Chairmanship, however, will also organize a number of activities, mainly in Nicosia, in cooperation with other Ministries or institutions. Such activities will tackle a variety of issues, from education to personal data protection and people with disabilities.


All actions reflect the Presidency`s three priorities, says the Minister, namely the promotion of rights and freedoms for all people without any discrimination, democratic citizenship and the supremacy of the rule of law.


Kasoulides speaks finally of the various political, financial and social benefits for Cyprus, as more than 1,500 foreign officials are expected to attend various Presidency events during the next six months.


Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third. Peace talks are currently underway to find a negotiated settlement that will reunite the country, under a federal roof.

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