Minister for Europe: how the UK and Cyprus can work together to make a brighter future

Speech delivered by the Minister for Europe David Lidington in Cyprus on Wednesday 6 November.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Minister for Europe

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today in Cyprus. There is a well-known phrase “may you live in interesting times” that is known to be both a blessing and a curse. Europe has been going through very “interesting times” in recent years, and people across Europe have had to cope with great hardship and austerity.

Against that backdrop, the stirrings of growth in the continent as a whole are to be warmly welcomed.

As we emerge from five long years of uncertainty, we now face an opportunity to shape the future of our continent.

I would like to discuss today how the UK and Cyprus can work together to make that future brighter for all of our people, young and old, and to outline what steps we can take together both in our bilateral relationship and as members of the European Union to bring jobs and growth back to our economies.

I believe strongly that Europe is at a turning point, and that we must seize this opportunity to make the changes that will lay the groundwork for stronger growth.

Today, I have seen how Cyprus is tackling its challenges head on; from reinvigorating the old town, bringing in business and trade, to the reform of the public sector. I am pleased to say that the UK is standing by your side as you do so.

The UK and Cyprus relationship is broad and deep. It has made us what we are today; bonded by strong cultural, educational and historical links. Only last year, at London 2012, Cyprus won its first Olympic medal - a silver in men’s laser sailing, no easy feat.

Cyprus is an important partner for the UK.

Tens of thousands of British nationals have decided to make Cyprus their home, while more than 300,000 people of Cypriot descent live in the UK…

The UK is one of the top destinations outside Cyprus for Cypriot students, second only to Greece. Many UK universities and colleges, like St. George’s Medical School, the first in Cyprus, are now establishing educational links in Cyprus bringing students back to study at home.

Christopher Pissarides is an example of what can be achieved. Born in Cyprus, he went on to win the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2010, and currently works for the London School for Economics. There is a lot of expertise and know-how shared between the two countries.

And, of course, almost a million British tourists choose Cyprus as their holiday destination each year. The British tabloids are notoriously hard to please, but when they write about Cyprus, they wax lyrical. Just last month, the Daily Express was writing about the Baths of Aphrodite, the Akamas Peninsula, Avakas Gorge, the sunshine, the sauvignon, but most of all the food.

This exchange of people enables us to understand each other better and helps us to work together for the prosperity and security of both our countries.

Our economic ties are equally strong; worth hundreds of millions of euros per year flowing in both directions. The UK remains one of the most significant trading partners for Cyprus both in terms of goods and services. In 2012, Cyprus was ranked the 56th biggest market for the UK – remarkable considering Cyprus’ size and population.

But it is not just trade. There is more than £10bn worth of foreign direct investment from Cyprus into the UK. And we share similar structures and business values such as our legal systems, based on Common Law principles, and our public sector.

That is why I was pleased that Cyprus turned to the UK to help review its public sector. Just now, I had the opportunity to visit the Registrar of Companies to see at first-hand how Cyprus is actively looking to put in place streamlined and efficient procedures to help businesses grow.

Our bilateral relationships is strong, but we are also partners in the European Union, where we have seen rising unemployment, falling GDP and real hardships faced by many families in recent years.

Across Europe, people are becoming impatient to see progress on what matters to them most – growth and jobs.

We know, as European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso put it, that there is no return to the “old normal”. Our task now is to shape the “new normal”, and make it work as best it can for the people of Europe.

As part of this, we must create a more open, competitive, flexible and democratically accountable European Union.

We must be open to internal trade, deepening the single market that, alongside enlargement, is one of Europe’s two major success stories.

I’m pleased that at the European Council last month, we made progress on improving the single market in services and digital, which are strengths of both the Cypriot and the UK economies.

The digital market may feel a long way from the issues facing many of us today, but in a world dominated by a hi-tech and intellectual skilled workforce, Cyprus has a good chance of reaping the dividends quicker than most.

We have also made progress on being open to external trade.

In the coming years, 90 percent of world growth will come from outside EU’s borders.

Last month, Cyprus sent out Government and trade delegations to Kuwait and China. I welcome that. This not only helps the Cypriot economy but it helps the European economy. It demonstrates the importance of deepening our commercial ties with some of the largest economies in the world.

The recent Canada-EU trade agreement will benefit the European economy by as much €9.3bn a year. A deal with the US will deliver even greater rewards - as much as £100 billion to the EU economy and as much as £85 billion to the rest of the world.

These developments will help to boost growth, increase prosperity and reduce unemployment.

Then, we must take action on competitiveness, cutting EU red tape to help entrepreneurs, the small and medium-sized enterprises at the heart of most Cypriot communities and the big multinational companies.

I welcome the work that the Commission has done on its REFIT agenda to reduce the regulatory burden on firms. But that is not enough.

We need to respond to the concerns of business. That is why last month, senior business leaders in the UK presented a report to Prime Minister David Cameron suggesting real, definitive ways to boost trade, boost growth and boost jobs. The taskforce has made significant strides in pinpointing areas of concern for business. Neither of our countries want a situation where small and medium-sized firms are bound by EU regulations which impede their ability to grow. We need to make Europe more flexible and more democratically accountable too. Europe has a democratic deficit that cannot be ignored, and Europe’s national parliaments need to work together to make a bigger impact on EU decision making, That’s why I am pleased to see that the Cypriot parliament was among the parliaments of 11 member states, including the UK’s, to hold up a yellow card to a Commission proposal this month.

Europe has known interesting times in recent years, but for Cyprus these are exciting times too with the discovery of new energy supplies.

Universities in Cyprus are turning their attention to these, confident that the recent discovery of natural gas will create important business opportunities. I remember how North Sea oil transformed the UK economy. But it meant building an industry from scratch. We learned quickly before the profits came the need to develop our knowledge and produce the right people with the right skills. This brought UK to the forefront of the oil and gas sector today. A position where Cyprus could be in less than a decade.

The strong bilateral relationship between the UK and Cyprus – brings benefits to us both, and we are keen to improve it even further. What underpins our prosperity is the reason I’m here in this beautiful converted building at the British Council; a young motivated and skilled workforce to generate new ideas, break down barriers and build confidence in the economy.

We need to ensure that in both our countries, and across Europe, we develop the education and skills today that allow our economies to flourish and to tackle the challenges of tomorrow. So we will continue to work together for a better deal for business in Europe, and to shape the environment to the benefit of all.

Thank you.

Published 7 November 2013