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Cyprus crisis needs ... an ambassador for investment

09 February, 2013

**Markoullis’ formidable talents should be put to good use**
Opinion by Fiona Mullen, Director, Sapienta Economics Ltd

If the elections go the way the polls suggest, then the foreign minister, Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, will be looking for something new to do by March.
For all I know she is planning to sit back and tend to her garden. But just in case she hasn’t lost the travel-bug, I have a suggestion that I think would help drag us out of the economic crisis.
One of the weaknesses identified in our report on professional services in Cyprus, which Marina Theodotou and I co-authored for PwC, was that political leaders in Cyprus do not promote Cyprus as a business centre abroad. What we were too polite to say was that this is because they are often talking about the Cyprus problem.
Which brings me back to Markoullis.
Despite being a tiny country with barely an army, the Republic of Cyprus has remained a thorn in the side of Turkey for decades and ensured that no one can fly directly to the north, let alone recognise the unilaterally declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (‘TRNC’).
The latest alliance with Israel is just more evidence of what one might call this “small but smart” policy.
I believe there will never be a Taiwan or even Kosovo status for northern Cyprus. And this is largely because of the vast amount of work, strategic thinking and promotional effort put into the matter by the foreign ministry.
Though I do not know it for sure, my hunch says there must be a connection between Markoullis’ long career in foreign affairs, first as an official in the foreign ministry and then as foreign minister under two different presidents, and Cyprus’ foreign policy successes.
I say this because I have seen Markoullis in action, both as a foreign minister and as the leader of the property team in the UN-sponsored negotiations. She can be tough when that is what is required of her but she can also be very persuasive, not to mention incredibly charming.
And she is sharp. Her speech at The Economist Cyprus-EU Presidency Summit last October was pitch perfect.
Speaking in her capacity as presiding over the EU General Affairs Council, she did not thump the table about invasion and occupation but calmly, as the voice of the EU, pointed out that Turkey must meet its obligations.
I suspect that her real target audience was John Peet, the Europe Editor for The Economist, who sat just a few feet away, and who is perhaps one of the most significant influences on how the rest of the world views Cyprus.
During her speech she also mentioned how many Arab countries she had visited in recent months. With her EU hat on this was in response to the Arab Spring.
But I couldn’t help thinking that this was also a very smart move when these countries might be having misgivings about Cyprus’ closer ties with Israel.
If we are to clamber out of this crisis we need to do things differently than in the past. Appointing a prominent personality as the person charged with promoting investment would be a good start.
Who better than appointing Markoullis: tireless globetrotter, respected diplomat and formidable defender of Cyprus’ interests.