EU must be more present in E. Mediterranean, French Ambassador tells CNA before taking over new post in Paris
CNA - Maria Koniotou - Nicosia 24/08/2020
France would like the EU to be more present and play a bigger role for the stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, French Ambassador to Cyprus Isabelle Dumont has told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) just before leaving her post in Nicosia.
Dumont, who came to Cyprus a year ago, has been offered and will be assuming a post at the Presidential Palace in Paris where she will take over the portfolio for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, the Balkans and Turkey. She told CNA that the aim of the French military presence in the Mediterranean region is to de-escalate the tensions and expressed hope that she will be able to help Cyprus and the region from her new position, noting that she discussed this with Cyprus President Anastasiades and with Ministers, whom she informed that she is leaving her post in Cyprus.
Asked about possible sanctions that may be taken by the EU against Turkey for its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Ambassador said that the French position has been clear over the past months. “What we think is that there are some tools that have been decided by the EU, depending on the evolution of the situation, and we should be using those tools depending on the situation,” she added.
“Our vision on this issue is that the sanctions on any country have to be a tool, not an objective by itself. We are not aiming at putting sanctions. What we want is to use all the tools possible to have the tensions decreased and international law being respected. This is the main objective,” she added.
To a remark that the Turkish leadership has not changed its stance so far, despite any calls or statements by the EU, Dumont noted that in the case of tensions with Greece, dialogue has actually proved its capacity to change the situation a little bit. “We have to show that we are firm, that we are here present on the spot, ready for dialogue repeating ourselves that the objective of France with our partners is to decrease tensions and to get stability,” she added.
Referring to the fact that she is leaving her post in Cyprus so soon, Dumont said that she recently received a proposal from the Presidential Palace in Paris to go back to France to work with President Emmanuel Macron.
“I had to make a decision. It was not an easy one but I decided to agree. I have very mixed feelings now. On the one hand I am honoured to be working for the President who I think is respected all over the world, and especially in Europe, and has been playing a very important role since he has been elected, but on the other hand I am sad to be honest,” Dumont said.
“It was not an easy decision to make. I am very sad. We have an excellent contact with the authorities, with a lot of people. I had a lot of projects to develop”, she said, noting that the fact that she is leaving now after such a short time on the island is very difficult.
Asked about Turkish provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean, and France’s military presence in the region with frigates and fighter jets, Dumont noted that “the reason why we are doing that is not at all to escalate. On the contrary, the role that France wants to play in the region is to de-escalate the tensions. In order to de-escalate the tensions we need to show presence. We need to show that France and the EU is present, has a capacity in the region.”
She furthermore noted that the French military naval presence in the Eastern and Central Mediterranean is also to make sure that the UN embargo on Libya is respected, because this is for the safety and security of the region. “So, the role that we are playing there is to make sure that stability will come back in the whole region. This is the view that France has and we would like the EU to more present and to play a bigger role for stability in the region,” she added.
To a remark that this is also the position of the Cyprus government, the French Ambassador said that this is indeed a common position which is not opposed to others. “This is quite a general EU position. The EU is very concerned about the developments. Our President received Mrs Merkel, the German Chancellor, a few days ago and they shared this common vision of our common need to ensure stability. We do share it also with Cyprus obviously,” she added.
Furthermore, she recalled that President Anastasiades was in Paris at the end of July and met with Emmanuel Macron. “It was a very positive meeting, I was there and it was very impressive to see our Presidents so close, to have such a common vision and to share the same preoccupations on the developments and the same wish to appease the tensions. And this is what we will be continuing to work together,” she added.
Αsked about the military, defence cooperation between Cyprus and France, the French Ambassador said that this is also a very important direction of their cooperation. “Cyprus plays a very important role with its geographic position, but also as a place of stability. For us it is very important to be able to have access to Cyprus for the port calls of our frigates when they come in the area. Now there are French frigates practically all the time in the area actually on a nearly continuous basis and this cooperation is quite essential to us but not only about frigates coming to Cyprus. It is also about training officers which we are also doing constantly and we are probably going to enhance,” she added.
Asked about reports that France is seeking to establish a naval base in Cyprus, Dumont said that this is not exactly what is being discussed. “We are having discussions on how we can enhance our cooperation but we are not talking about a French naval base. This is not what is on the table. The reason why I am not more specific is not because of any secret schemes. It is just that we are in the middle of this discussion and how exactly we can enhance, make sure that we can continue having a good access,” she added.
She noted that on both sides, there is a common effort to enhance this cooperation. “But one shouldn’t think of a new scheme between France and Cyprus because we already have an excellent level of cooperation so we are talking about how to make it even more stable and bigger,” she added.
Invited to assess the prospects for the resumption of the negotiations for a solution to the Cyprus problem, the French Ambassador said that this issue is a disappointment. “Every Ambassador coming to Cyprus somewhat has in a little part of his/her brain the wish that the Cyprus problem will be solved during his or her stay in Cyprus. This means that we believe and I believe in the possibility of a solution,” she noted.
She said that the coronavirus pandemic made everything more difficult including this question, for simple reasons as well, since travelling was more difficult. “I do believe still having been here only one year that a solution is possible. If there is political will on both sides it is not that difficult. If both sides have the political will you can get to a solution that will be profitable for all the communities of the island,” Dumont noted.
She expressed concern that little by little the population seems to be less interested in a solution, noting that it is not good to think that with time it will be easier. This is why I really hope that the leaders will restart working together to get to a solution, she said.
Dumont also noted that another point of concern for her is that in the framework of the coronavirus situation the crossing points have been closed and "de facto you don’t have any links now between the two communities."
“This is really problematic. This is much more problematic than people think. And as I am now leaving, I really want to call on the people to understand that this not a good situation, this is not a normal situation. I understand that there are sanitary reasons but people can come from abroad potentially with the virus but you cannot cross a few metres in Ledras Street,” she said.
She underlined that this is not a criticism, noting that it is up to the authorities to discuss this and the leaders to get to an agreement on how to deal with that. “I am not giving lessons. It is very difficult to handle the situation with the sanitary issues, the political issues. But I really wish that in a few days or weeks I will hear good news about that because the more the population don’t see each other the more you have negative images of one each other because you don’t know each other,” she noted.
Asked about the issue of the fenced – off city of Famagusta, the French Ambassador said that the French position is very clear. “We are supporting the UN position that has been stated in UN Security Council resolutions which is that the properties should be returned to the inhabitants of Varosha. We have nothing more to add to the UN position that we are firmly respecting,” she added.
With regards to the bilateral cooperation between Cyprus and France, Dumont said that that it is more excellent than people can think of. Moreover she noted that we discussed “with the President, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs that taking into account the excellent level of the political relationship that we have we could have a much more better relationship in terms of cooperation in economy, the francophonie,” adding that “we share the same analysis with the Cypriot authorities.”
"This is why also I am sad to leave Cyprus so quickly because I actually had a lot of projects to fulfill. Just a few weeks ago, when the President of Cyprus was in Paris we came back together and we were discussing a follow up of this direct positive meeting", she noted.
She said that her successor will obviously follow on that. “One of the initiatives that I wanted to take was to have an annex of the French school in another place of Cyprus. I’ve had a lot of discussions with the Minister of Education, Prodromos Prodromou, and we share the same vision. He is very supportive of the franco-cypriot school and francophonie is not a secondary issue. It is really important,” Dumont said.
She also expressed the need for French companies to invest in Cyprus. “For that we need to have projects of fundamental developments like renewable energy, where French companies have something to bring to Cyprus or infrastructure projects in cities. Those are the big projects that I am sure that French companies would be interested in participating. I was ready and my successor and the French Embassy will be ready to support any development that will help us enhance our bilateral relation that is excellent politically but that we can beef up,” she added.
Dumont thanked the Cypriots for welcoming her so well noting that the quality of contacts that she had with the political leaders and the people is just incredible. “This is a memory that I will keep all my life. This year has been extremely intense, I will keep a lot of very positive memories and Cyprus will also stay in my heart after this year,” she concluded.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third. Turkey has ignored numerous UN resolutions calling for the withdrawal of the Turkish troops and respect of the integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus.
Ankara sent on several occasions its seismic research vessel ‘Barbaros’ to Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), following the Republic of Cyprus’ decision, in 2011, to start exploratory offshore drilling. After May 2019, Turkey caused a stir by sending consecutively two drill ships, “Fatih” and “Yavuz”, to conduct unauthorised drilling activities of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean, at times in areas licensed by Cyprus to international energy companies.
The European Council reaffirmed its full solidarity with Cyprus, regarding the respect of its sovereignty and sovereign rights in accordance with international law and in February 2020, placed two persons under restrictive measures, in relation to Turkey`s unauthorised drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
ENDS, CYPRUS NEWS AGENCY