Mr President, your Excellencies, colleagues and friends,
It is an honour to be here today at the virtual High-Level Political Forum to present Cyprus’ second Voluntary National Review.
Today, as we pave towards the second year of an unprecedented new reality, it becomes increasingly urgent to embrace the opportunities that have arisen. The pandemic showcased the common destiny of humanity on the planet and the common challenges. And we must act upon this premise, for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals to transform our World.
Cyprus’ second Voluntary National Review was conducted in a very crucial timing. Not only did it allow us to review our state of progress but it became a signpost to guide us forward and build upon the lessons we learned since 2017.
The Covid-19 reality, brought unexpected challenges and changes to everyday life but also to public policies. Our government’s top priority was the protection of the health of its citizens and to mitigate the economic effects of the crisis.
A combination of strategies that promoted a wide programme of free rapid tests in conjunction with an extensive tracing of contacts programme led to the successful management of the disease with a comparatively very low death toll. New electronic services have been developed, including the operation of the CYFlightpass, the vaccination platform, and the development of the official covid tracer application to detect possible contacts of confirmed cases.
Equally important was the support of the social and economic fallout of the pandemic. The response of the government was immediate, swift and forceful, comprising of a package of budgetary, liquidity and policy measures to sustain the health system, support businesses and secure jobs.
In 2020, the total impact of the support package exceeded 12.5% of the GDP.
In the period that elapsed since its first VNR in 2017, and given the five years of continuous high economic growth, Cyprus has shown progress in most SDG indicators, even though major challenges still remain.
It performs very well with regard to reducing poverty, securing good health and in high tertiary educational attainment. Cyprus has shown a significant increase in performance from 2017, moving up 16 steps, from the 50th position to the 34th position in the Global ranking.
We are fully committed towards promoting all three pillars of sustainable development, and thus we have adopted an appropriate country-specific mix of 133 investments and reforms contributing towards economic development and digitalization, social inclusion, as well as green transition.
To support economic recovery our government has laid down the foundations for a very ambitious investment programme towards a greener, more inclusive and more resilient economy and society. Overtime, our heavy reliance on services has had its adverse effects and thus in the past years we have been shifting our perspective towards new domains and new sectors in the economy.
As the past year has shown, we need to diversify economic activity even more, and remain focused on build a knowledge-based economy.
Last year we established the Deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Policy to boost innovation and the digital transformation of our country.
Harnessing the full potential of the European Green Deal towards climate neutral economy is also a priority. To this end a new structure for the Green Deal Governance is in place operating under the political guidance of a six-member Ministerial Committee.
In this respect, we have introduced significant measures contributing to climate neutrality, including sustainable transport, renewable energy, improving waste management, circular economy, protection of biodiversity and sustainable production.
Recent studies from prominent institutions have classified the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East region as a global “climate hot-spot” with particularly high vulnerability to climate change impacts. To this end, Cyprus Government is actively participating in a new international Climate Change Initiative to address the specific needs and challenges countries are facing in the region and advance mitigation actions.
Dear friends and colleagues,
we need to do our very best to ensure that no one is left behind.
Our government has Gender Equality as one of its main ambitions. That is why we called upon all relevant players to jointly implement actions and measures of our new National Action Plan for Equality between Men and Women.
Domestic Violence and Sex Trafficking combatting is our utmost priority. We know that the road is long but we working towards confronting this with all means possible. From providing appropriate multidisciplinary support and treatment to women who are victims of violence towards drastic interventions regarding their legal protection and welfare.
We need to pay more attention to our young leaders of tomorrow and engage them with the global vision for the future. Youth-related issues are brought to the centre of our attention and we encourage and foster youth participation in the government’s decision-making process. The appointment of younger people in Key political posts in government has drastically increased in the past years, we have launched the "Public Consultation Day" and "Citizen's Day" as well as the annual meeting of the Children’s Parliament within the Parliamentary House.
During these meetings, Young Teams raised issues that need to be addressed properly and with urgency.
I would like to share with you a major challenge that our country is facing. A challenge that doesn’t stop at borders. Illegal migration. The number of migrants arriving in thousands every year in Cyprus, a small country with less than a million population has risen dramatically in recent years. Small Cyprus ranks on top of all European countries in the number of asylum applications in relation to the population. The vast majority of those arriving through the occupied areas from Turkey.
Despite the fact that we are acting fast to set up the mechanisms that will handle the situation as effectively as possible, despite the more and more increaing resources available, the situation is unsustainable in the absence of an international mechanism that would effectively adress increasing illegal migration. We have to be honest! Illegal Migration is an international issue that doesn’t stop at boarders and is thus not simply a matter of merely improving our national policies. The international community should take the migration issue more seriously.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we look forward, we aspire to transform Cyprus into the “Sustainable Business and Trade Centre of Europe.” Our path to recovery must and will be aligned to our SDG journey. We have taken a holistic approach and concrete steps to support sustainable development through our government’s plan ‘Cyprus for Tomorrow’ with an overall budget of €4,4 bln or 21,5% of GDP comprising the main European Funds, namely the Recovery and Resilience Fund and the Cohesion funds.
This EU-funded plan is geared towards helping the recovery of the economy as well as the creation of a new vision for our country that would work as a road-map for the post-Covid era. It is a key tool to positively impact our citizens’ well-being, the quality of human capital and to effectively lead towards green and digital transition.
We are sharing the present and envision a future with everyone involved. We need to see that the impact of our actions has a profound effect upon all dimensions of sustainability adhering to the principle of leaving no one behind. The achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires universal efforts by all. We are thus bringing together a diverse network of social actors including non-governmental organizations, local authorities, academic institutions, organized groups of citizens, and businesses.
Allow me now dear friends to use this opportunity to extend my deep gratitude and appreciation to everyone who has been working and contributing for our safety and well-being during this challenging time of the pandemic. We have been reminded that we are interconnected and we must work as one to bring humanity towards a more conscious and enlightened living and transform our planet into a place of sustainability and abundance where everyone has the opportunity to live in harmony and peace.
On behalf of our President and the people of my country, I would like to confirm that we are fully committed to continue building a prosperous, peaceful and inclusive society and protect our planet both at home and around the world.
Thank you for this opportunity.