Dear Mr Emmanuel Jacob, President of Euromil,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a real pleasure to be invited here today to the 107th Presidium Meeting of EUROMIL that is being held in Cyprus. I warmly welcome you to our beautiful island and wish you a pleasant stay.
First of all, I would like to congratulate and thank the organizers for this important international event and for giving us this opportunity to discuss some significant issues, particularly those related to the social and professional interests of the military personnel in Europe. Indeed, such initiatives provide a venue for the much needed dialogue, through which we can synthesize ideas in order to practically address the issues facing military personnel, as well as to raise awareness of certain problems.
The progress that has been achieved from the European Organisation of Military Associations (EUROMIL) is notable, starting as a rather modest organization consisting of a small number of countries, to its present composition, which stretches across 27 countries, and has become the main forum in Europe concerning military personnel. Through appropriate planning and constructive work, EUROMIL has 43 organizations from 28 countries under its umbrella, and represents approximately 500.000 members of armed forces.
Dear Presidium Members,
You have convinced us that with collective work and cooperation, with professionalism and credibility, you can accomplish strong and positive results for your military associations and trade unions in European countries.
Allow me to begin my intervention with a reference to the fundamental steps made towards the strengthening of military collaboration, highlighting the achievements of the cooperation among the EU partner countries. It is evident that cooperation, in any field, can yield practical and tangible results. Collective collaboration has rapidly changed the security environment of Europe, enabling the Union to improve and draw on credible capabilities, for enhancing international peace, security and stability.
However, we have also to take into consideration the difficulties that we now face due to the economic crisis and the increase of financial constraints in European countries. In times of severely constrained national budgets, Cyprus – much like everyone else present here today – attempts to bridge security and economic needs.
The recent economic developments in Cyprus have had a harsh impact on the citizens of the island. Consequently, the disappointment and frustration of Cypriots is justified, taking into account the stance and approach undertaken by our EU – partners. Unfortunately, Cyprus is in the difficult position of seeking financial assistance from the EU, but nevertheless, we should keep in mind that Cyprus is a Member State of the EU, and therefore has the right to solidarity and support from the Union.
Unfortunately, in the wake of the economic crisis, armed forces and personnel are not exempt to budget cuts. Military communities cannot escape austerity measures, whilst the risk of undermining security is obvious.
In this framework, working together is an inevitable necessity that should become a cornerstone of our policy. Changing developments have created a pressing need for the European Union to work hand–in-hand with its partners in managing the challenges. There is a need to join forces, knowledge, experiences, ideas and initiatives, so as to collaborate and achieve the best possible results.
What is certain is that any challenges faced in the defence sector due to the financial crisis, could be encountered through flexible initiatives such as pooling and sharing. However, our collective obligations and the Union’s global role and responsibilities as a security provider and peace promoter, have not been downsized. In this context, Member States should not only pool and share their capabilities, infrastructures and facilities, but they should also share their security concerns.
The December 2013 European Council discussion on defence and military capabilities, should be seen as an opportunity for the political leaders to reflect on the Union’s policies, to adapt to the existing security and financial challenges and to pave the way for the years to come. The forthcoming Council can provide specific strategic orientation for the development of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), identify trends and threats, define objectives and add value, to our joint human and material investments in the area of security and defence, in order to ensure that the European Union remains capable, competitive, coherent, cooperative and a credible actor on the international scene. Hopefully, we will be able to adopt concrete guidelines for the future direction of the CSDP, and in this respect, justify the reasons why tax payers – amidst the financial downturn – should continue investing for their security and defence.
Taking the opportunity of my presence here today, I would also like to touch on the intention of the Government of Cyprus to submit an application to the Program “Partnership for Peace”. It is our conviction that by joining this Program, we will be able to contribute to resolving the problems of cooperation between the EU and NATO, both at the institutional and operational level. Therefore, we expect the support of our partners in the EU, the NATO Nations, as well as of the two organizations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The year 2013 marks fifty-three years since the birth of the Republic of Cyprus. For thirty-nine of these years, the island and its people have been divided as a result of Turkey's invasion in 1974. The military aggression against Cyprus continues unabated to this date, in the form of military occupation, forcible division, and violation of human rights, massive colonization, cultural destruction, property usurpation and ethnic segregation. A member state of the United Nations and the European Union today, Cyprus, continues to be victim of unabashed international aggression by Turkey, a member of the UN and aspiring member of the EU. This is an insult to international legal order and a constant threat to regional stability. The Government of Cyprus remains committed to seeking a solution to the Cyprus problem, which will allow Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike, to fully enjoy the benefits and advantages of European Union membership.
Recent discoveries of hydrocarbon deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean hold out the prospect of significant benefits for the countries concerned. Despite the Turkey’s provocations and threats, we will continue exercising our sovereign rights in our Exclusive Economic Zone. The hydrocarbon reserves will have to be taken advantage of in the best possible manner, towards the benefit of the entire Cypriot people, as well as for the strengthening of peace and security in the region.
The mission of armed forces is very specific and crucial for the security of our citizens. Discipline and obedience are the foundation of a professional military, and are critical to the success of any military operation. The safety and well-being of a country, depends considerably on the willingness and readiness of a force of men and women, to defend the nation's security against any emerging threats.
However, sometimes there is a fine line, between the virtues of military discipline, strong hierarchy and the rights of personnel. A line that is approached differently in each country, but nevertheless needs to be distinguished, so as to ensure that the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the armed forces are safeguarded appropriately.
Here in Cyprus, the military personnel is represented by three military associations: the Cyprus Army Retired Officers Association, the Cyprus Army Officers Association and the Non Commissioned Officers Association, all the three of them join EUROMIL. Consequently, a basic representation of military personnel in Cyprus is met, thus abiding by the rights guaranteed, from numerous international, political and binding documents.
The Ministry of Defence supports and reinforces these associations, within the institutional framework, aiming to create the conditions for effective dialogue that can lead to the best result, for both the Cyprus Armed Forces and its military personnel.
It is notable that until today a lot of work has been done, so as to reach satisfactory results, concerning the personnel of the armed forces. Interactions between countries through the voluntary contribution of EUROMIL, have given the opportunity to exchange ideas and implement best practices.
However, there is always room for improvement. It is disappointing to see that some European countries still continue to impose undue restrictions, on military personnel associations as well as on other basic rights.
In this context, I would like to specifically mention the Recommendation to the member states adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 24th Feb 2010, concerning the human rights of the members of the armed forces, which gives the opportunity to EU countries to achieve a greater unity between them, inter alia, by promoting the adoption of common rules for military personnel; A Recommendation that the member states have to endorse and materialize, within a wider concept of cooperation in the framework of the Union.
Concluding, I would like to stress once again that we rely heavily on our armed forces. Arguably, they have a difficult task to accomplish and make every effort to meet their duties through prudence and discipline. I believe that it is generally accepted that military personnel should not be treated as second – class citizens, but instead, they deserve the best, and this should be achieved through cooperation and collective actions.
Military associations and unions have a crucial role to play in promoting best practices and can be a powerful ally, in raising awareness and articulating the professional interest and concerns of military personnel. It is up to each country and every member of the association or Union, to improve the working conditions for their military members.
Once again, allow me to congratulate the organizers and to welcome open discussions and constructive conclusions. We hope you enjoy your stay in Cyprus as well as the nice weather.