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Last month, Christofias announced that he would not seek re-election next February, when his current five-year term ends. The political career of the 66-year-old appears to be over, and he will leave the public stage a much-diminished figure. The Progressive Party for the Working People (AKEL), of which Christofias has been a member since the age of 18, has yet to choose a successor.
When Christofias was elected president early in 2008, hopes were high that he might be the man to bring about the reunification of the island and reconciliation between its Greek and Turkish communities. Not since Turkey's invasion and occupation of around one-third of the island in 1974 – in response to a coup attempt hatched by the military junta that then ruled Athens, and aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece – had the conditions appeared so conducive to a settlement.
Barely one month after his election, Christofias launched settlement talks with Mehmet Ali Talat, the centre-left leader of the Turkish-Cypriot community. But four years of negotiations have failed to break the deadlock, leaving Christofias, who had made achieving a settlement the prime objective of his presidency, with very little to show for his period in office.
Talat was voted out as leader of the Turkish Cypriots in 2010, to be replaced by Dervis Eroglu, a far less conciliatory figure from the centre-right. Christofias's coalition with the centre-right Democratic Party (DIKO), which rejects accommodation with the Turkish Cypriots, was a further complication. A deadly explosion at an ammunition dump last summer – for which the government was held responsible – prompted the DIKO to drop out of the coalition, forcing Christofias to form a largely technocratic government that lacks a strong majority in parliament.
The dire state of Cyprus's economy, with its massive exposure to Greek debt, has now replaced the division of the island as the dominant political issue. Christofias's main legacy might well be that Greek Cypriot politics has taken a step towards normality, and away from a transfixing obsession with the problem of Turkey's occupation.
Given the vagaries of ministerial appointments in Cyprus – horse-trading can sometimes hamper the island's international agenda – many in Cyprus were reassured when Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, an experienced career diplomat, was put in charge of the foreign ministry in August 2011. Kozakou-Marcoullis, 63, had been minister of communications and works since March 2010, having served as foreign minister for seven months under Tassos Papadopoulos, Christofias's predecessor as president.
Kozakou-Marcoullis has a reputation for hard work and is very ready to give face-to-face interviews to explain the complexities of the divided island – the primary task of any Cypriot foreign minister. She is also proud of her heritage and traditions, on one occasion donning national dress to meet former US president Bill Clinton in Washington, DC.
After gaining two law degrees in Athens, in 1979 Kozakou-Marcoullis completed a PhD in sociology and political science at the University of Helsinki. When her husband took a job in medical research in New York, she became part of the permanent mission of Cyprus to the United Nations from 1980 to 1988.
From 1996 to 1998, she served as ambassador to Sweden, with responsibility for the other Nordic countries and the three Baltic states. She spent the next five years as ambassador to the United States, and was also Cyprus's link to to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the Organization of American States. Later, while serving as a director at the foreign ministry in Nicosia, she was ambassador to Lebanon and Jordan.
As well as representing Cyprus at international bodies, Kozakou-Marcoullis has published academic studies, and lectured in universities and to think-tanks worldwide.
The man who will occupy arguably the hottest seat during the Cyprus presidency is a respected banker rather than a politician. Appointed finance minister just three months ago, Vassos Shiarly is the third person to hold the post in just over four years, following his predecessor's resignation after six months, for health reasons.
Christofias has not been the ideal boss for finance ministers; he has habit of publicly disagreeing with or even disowning measures to reduce the budget deficit.
Shiarly, 64, will have to draw on all his experience to negotiate the challenges of the next six months. First there is overseeing the negotiations on the 2014-20 multiannual financial framework. Then – unless Cyprus finds a bilateral lender (a €4 billion loan by Russia is being talked about) – it is likely that he will be chairing meetings of finance ministers while the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers considers a request from Cyprus for an international bail-out.
Shiarly is widely regarded as having the tools to succeed: a hard worker who achieves his aims quietly and with determination, someone who considers his words carefully. After 18 years in accounting in the United Kingdom, he left a senior position with Coopers & Lybrand to return to Cyprus in 1985, where he joined the Bank of Cyprus, rising to group chief general manager in 2010.
He has already set an example when it comes to cutting costs – after waiving his minister's salary, Shiarly travelled economy class on a recent trip to Malta with Christofias. The crucial question is whether he will be allowed to deliver the budget cuts that have been promised.
Eleni Mavrou is an exception in Cypriot politics. She is well-grounded in the local left-wing tradition, which at national level tends to favour male politicians with largely predictable profiles and performances to match. But she also fits easily into the familiar European leftist mould: a successful female politician who is articulate in more than one language and regarded as accessible, hard-working and down-to-earth.
Her appointment in March as the country's first female interior minister was the latest milestone in a lengthy political career that includes five years as the first female mayor of the capital, Nicosia.
When she began her term as mayor in 2006, Mavrou emphasised that while tackling the major challenges – modernising infrastructure, reviving the city's historic centre, restructuring council services, cutting bureaucracy, getting access to European funding – she would aim to encourage greater participation by citizens in social and cultural affairs. In particular, she thought her success would encourage more women to become involved in politics.
She was not, however, an overnight success. Mavrou, 51, has been politically active since her student days, when she studied for a degree in politics and international relations at the University of London. Already a member of the central committee of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL), with responsibility for local government, she served two terms as a Nicosia municipal councillor in 1986-96.
In 2001, she was elected as an MP for Nicosia, and from 2003 also served as an observer at the European Parliament. But after being re-elected as an MP she stood for mayor of Nicosia, regarding it as a bigger challenge
because she could have a direct impact on people's lives. It will be interesting to see how she applies her experience to her wide-ranging duties as interior minister.
Deputy minister for European affairs
When the preparations for the EU presidency became mired in controversy and accusations of nepotism in October 2011, the man chosen by Christofias to get things back on track seemed ideal for the job.
At that point, career diplomat Mavroyiannis, 55, had spent three years in Brussels as Cyprus's ambassador and permanent representative to the European Union, and so was very familiar with the European approach to consensus-building and problem-solving, and in particular with the challenges associated with the presidency of the Council of Ministers.
In contrast to the bombast, short-termism and opportunism that often characterise domestic politics in Cyprus, the presidency will require political vision and leadership on a wider scale, something that Mavroyiannis is well aware of. It will also demand coherence and consistency in acting on behalf of the Council with other institutions. Another cultural challenge – in political terms – will be to deal with the massive organisational demands in a timely and effective way.
Mavroyiannis appears to have the skills and experience. After a brief academic career in law – he obtained his postgraduate qualification and doctorate in France – he joined the Cypriot diplomatic service in 1987. Since then, he has served as ambassador to Ireland (1997-99), France (1999-2002) and the UN (2003-8), and in various other foreign ministry posts. Drawing on his time as an expert on EU affairs at the Civil Service College of London (1994), the soft-spoken Mavroyiannis has been putting senior civil servants through a crash-course in EU affairs. His task was made harder by the reshuffling of three of the 11 ministerial posts in March, but despite such setbacks, he is satisfied that his team is more confident and prepared for the task in hand than last October.
Permanent representative to the EU
Cyprus's preparations for its presidency of the Council of Ministers began badly. The head of the EU secretariat in Nicosia, Andreas Moleskis, resigned in mid-2011 amid complaints about nepotism in recruitment practices. There was a three-month hiatus before a successor was appointed, Andreas Mavroyiannis, who was Cyprus's permanent representative to the EU. In turn, that left a significant vacancy in Brussels, which was filled by the appointment of Kornelios Korneliou, who took over in October.
The 48-year-old Korneliou has sufficient experience to steady the boat. He was Cyprus's deputy ambassador to the EU between 2000 and 2007 – and has spent years in some of the most senior positions in Cypriot diplomacy, including ambassadorships in Paris (from where he was re-assigned to his current post) and Vienna, a position that also involved representing Cyprus's interests to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the UN's organisations. He was also, in 2008-10, the chief of staff of the then foreign minister Markos Kyprianou, who had previously served as Cyprus's first European commissioner.
Korneliou is said to be good with staff, an asset that is particularly important since his team has been almost quadrupled for the duration of the presidency. Another challenge will be managing relations with other member states, but he can already boast familiarity with Germany. He was for five years a political-science student in Munich (where he wrote a thesis on the impact of EU membership on Greece) and spent five of his early years in diplomacy in Berlin.
Commerce, industry and tourism minister
After it was confirmed early this year that Cyprus was sitting on substantial offshore reserves of natural gas, few were surprised when Neoklis Sylikiotis was moved from the interior ministry to manage a process that will play a crucial role in determining Cyprus's economic future.
Seen as a safe pair of hands by Christofias, Sylikiotis has been a committed member of the ruling AKEL party since his student days in the mid-1980s, holding a range of party positions. The minister is acknowledged, even by his political opponents, as someone who gets the job done. He has a reputation for working hard – some jokingly say that he never sleeps – and for being strong-willed and, occasionally, “a bit intense”.
Sylikiotis, 53, is one of only two ministers to survive from the first cabinet appointed by Christofias in February 2008, having served as interior minister for ten months in the previous coalition government. During his time in charge of the interior portfolio, Sylikiotis backed a range of policies that tackled overly-bureaucratic government processes, including a radical reform of local government and legislation to untangle the town-planning process.
He also earned the respect of his European peers for work on the Common European Asylum System and migration policy along the EU's Mediterranean borders. Sylikiotis's commitment to the plight of asylum-seekers is rooted in his own past. He has talked openly about the xenophobia he encountered as a mechanical engineering student in Germany. In 2007, having resigned from the cabinet when AKEL left the government coalition, he attended a demonstration in support of asylum-seekers – this at a time when Cypriots very rarely took the streets.
Labour and social insurance minister
Sometimes, the measure of a government minister's success is an absence of newspaper headlines. That was the case until recently for Sotiroula Charalambous, but with the Cypriot economy suffering, it is likely to change.
A political sciences graduate of the Sofia Academy of Social Science and Social Administration, a former official for the PEO, a trades union federation linked to the left-wing ruling party, and an MP since 2001, Charalambous's approach to carrying out her duties as labour minister has held no ideological surprises in terms of dealing with the social partners.
When Christofias appointed her to his cabinet in February 2008, the national budget was still in surplus and the effects of the global crisis had not yet reached Cyprus, so labour relations were peaceful. Today, the picture is very different. Against a background of a budget deficit and a growing public debt that has been condemned to ‘junk' status by credit-rating agencies, unemployment has passed the 10% mark and is on an upward trend. It is the worst jobless rate in decades, especially in the construction, trade and manufacturing sectors, with more than a quarter of all under-25s out of work.
Charalambous, 49, has a reputation for keeping on top of her policy issues, holding her own in negotiations, and not shying away from a fight with the opposition. Now she is facing the prospect of a hard sell to her traditional constituency, in terms of the structural economic changes likely to be set as conditions of a possible bail-out.
Most viewed in EU governance
5-6 July: European Commission visits Cyprus
7-8 July: Informal meeting of environment ministers
7-8 September: Informal meeting of foreign ministers
14-15 September: Informal meeting of finance ministers
18-19 October: European Council meets, Brussels
26 November-7 December: UN summit on climate change, Doha, Qatar
13-14 December: European Council meets, Brussels
A draft calendar has been posted on the temporary website: www.cy2012eu.gov.cy
The presidency website, cy2012.eu, is to go live this week.
Who chairs which council
General affairs: Andreas Mavroyiannis
Economic and financial affairs: Vassos Shiarly
Justice and home affairs: Eleni Mavrou (home affairs), Loucas Louca (justice and public order)
Employment and social affairs: Sotiroula Charalambous
Health: Stavros Malas
Science and research: Stavros Malas
Agriculture and fisheries: Sofoclis Aletraris
Environment: Sofoclis Aletraris
Education, culture and sport: Giorgos Demosthenous
Transport, telecommunications: Efthymios Flourentzou
Energy: Neoklis Sylikiotis
Competitiveness, internal market: Neoklis Sylikiotis
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