Interview of the Ambassador of France in O’Phileftheros (12/14/2015) [el]
Just few days ago French President Hollande had a short visit in Cyprus and met with President Anastasiades. Should we expect a new formal visit from President Hollande in the near future?
President Hollande made a stop-over in Cyprus on his way back from the visit he paid to the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and wanted to meet President Anastasiades on this occasion. Even if it was a short stay, it was the first time a French President came on the island to meet his Cypriot counterpart. As such, it is an important step, especially now that the negotiations process has intensified.
President Hollande has the intention to come back to the island, but there is no clear idea yet about potential dates, especially because the diplomatic and political agenda of the President has been very busy during the last months with the fight against terrorism or our mobilization for the Climate Summit (COP 21).
France is fighting along with her allies islamists and jihadists in Syria and Iraq. In what ways Cyprus can be helpful in this struggle?
France is fighting against jihadi terrorism, and not waging a war against Islam or Muslims. All kinds of support are welcome in this regard, especially with countries with which we share the same values and enjoy important bilateral ties, such as Cyprus.
Nicosia, in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks in January 2015 and also in November, has provided France with an important support at the political level. We also benefit from the support of Cyprus for the logistical or humanitarian stop-overs of our military aircrafts in Larnaca, Paphos and Akrotiry airbases. And our ships can also call in Cypriot ports for logistical purposes. This is of critical importance, as the theatre of operations is close to the island.
What Europe should do in order to avoid a new murderous attack like the one in Paris?
After the terrorist attacks in January this year, we proposed a number of measures to be taken, which are urgently needed today, as the Paris slaughter shows it.
On the EU domestic front, we need the Passenger Name Record to be implemented, the directive on the control of weapons to be revised, the works on the funding of terrorism and money laundering to be re-launched, and the reinforcement of our action on the Internet. These are essential steps to be taken so that the EU, which is a space of freedom, continues to be also a space of security.
On the external front, we need to reinforce the control on our external borders, notably at the Turkish-Greek border. Greece needs a decisive EU support and mobilization in order to really control the thousands of people crossing the border and who need international protection. If some of these persons represent a threat, then they have to be identified and controlled. But one shouldn’t put the blame of the terrorist attacks on the refugees who are also fleeing DAESH and are the main victims of this terrorist group. That is why President Hollande reaffirmed the commitment of France to welcome 30.000 Syrian refugees on the French soil.
And I would add that we need EU member states to be more active in military operations, and notably in the fight against terrorism. UK, Belgium, and ather EU countries have decided to reinforce their military engagement after Paris attacks, which is a good thing. But also on other theatres, in Mali or the Central African Republic we need more EU member-states support because cannot be the only one to intervene if we are to focus on the fight against terrorism.
Can the islamist extremism and ISIS be defeated?
Yes, we can and we will defeat DAECH and terrorist networks. This is precisely why we are fighting in Syria and Iraq, together with the international coalition which is composed of Western countries but also Arab countries. This requires our military engagement, such as what we are doing now, but also measures at the political level: in Syria, through a democratic transition with the certainty of Assad leaving the power; in Iraq, by the implementation of the national reconciliation process and the measures announced in 2014 by the Abadi government; and in Libya through the formation of a unity government. We also need to tackle the issues of terrorist financing, recruitment of foreign fighters and to counter the jihadi propaganda.
Should the western civilization and policies be blamed for what happened and still happens in Syria?
Absolutely not! What is happening in Syria is first and foremost the responsibility of the Syrian regime that chose in 2011 the repression of the democratic aspirations of its people instead of the dialogue and political reforms. We shouldn’t forget that the beginning of the Syrian crisis was a peaceful civil uprising asking for democracy and economic development. Because of the bloody repression of Assad’s regime, which made more than 300,000 victims, the Syrian people took arms and DAECH was able to take advantage of its despair.
The Cypriot-French relations are considered to be very good. What can the French ambassador in Cyprus say about the bilateral relations?
Bilateral relations between France and Cyprus have been strong, diversified and long lasting in every field (culture, politics and diplomacy, defense and security issues). We are also part of the international organization of francophonie and the French Cypriot School, which is a common project between our two countries, is growing, with an increasing number of young Cypriot pupils. And of course we are both part of the European Union, which means that we share common values, policies, economic stakes and political objectives.
In what fields can the two countries work together and bring their relations to a higher level?
There are still margins of progress in the field of economic and commercial relations. We would like them to become stronger, especially in the energy sector, notably on renewables, and in tourism. For tourism, a more frequent and cheaper direct aerial connection would be extremely useful.
An ambassador has the opportunities to travel around the world and learn about new places and people. You had the opportunity to live in Cyprus and learn about the Cypriots. What are your feelings about this area of the world?
I have spent very happy years in Cyprus : living and working conditions were optimal and Cypriots are very warm and welcoming people. They also showed strong resilience during the financial crisis and an ability to resist to difficult times. As my term comes to an end in the coming weeks, my only regret is that I couldn’t be a witness of the reunification of the island. This situation cannot continue. I hope that the two leaders, who are really dedicated to finding a solution, will be able to reach the necessary compromises for reunifying the island.