NICOSIA: Conservative Nicos Anastasiades was sworn in as the new president of Cyprus Thursday, vowing to save the nearly bankrupt Mediterranean island from financial meltdown as it seeks an EU bailout.
“I want to send a clear message,” he told parliament during his inaugural speech. “This new government takes full responsibility to secure economic stability and its future prospects,”
He said Cyprus wanted Europe on its side for the huge challenges ahead, as one of the eurozone’s smallest economies threatens to become its biggest headache.
“We are not asking for special treatment but fair treatment ... to receive what we deserve,” Anastasiades said.
The new president dismissed any suggestion that Cyprus should entertain a haircut on its bank deposits as some in Europe have suggested.
“This does not constitute evidence of solidarity and any reference to a haircut on deposits or public debt is not accepted. Similar issues are not up for discussion.”
Anastasiades cruised to victory in a run-off election Sunday with a strong mandate to secure an “earliest possible” bailout for the crisis-hit euro state.
France and Germany have welcomed Anastasiades’ election and urged the new government to negotiate a bailout quickly.
The 66-year-old, who begins a five-year term, said during his campaign he would accept harsh measures required to secure a bailout from the eurozone and International Monetary Fund.
His election was closely watched in the other 16 members of the eurozone, whose finance ministers had deferred a decision on the proposed bailout until negotiations with the new leader.
Euro finance ministers will resume discussions on a Cyprus bailout package Monday where the mood is expected to be more conducive to compromise than in previous sessions.
New Finance Minister Michalis Sarris said he would be “surprised” if more austerity was demanded.
Cyprus has pushed through harsh austerity measures of around 1.2 billion euros in tax hikes and savings, but fellow EU partners have called for more reforms.
A staunch pro-European, Anastasiades is seen as someone Europe can do business with. His close ties with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel were underlined Thursday when the two enjoyed a “long telephone conversation” before Anastasiades was sworn in.
Nicosia’s bailout request has been dogged by allegations – mainly from Berlin – that its banks are a haven for the ill-gotten gains of Russian oligarchs.
In a draft agreement with a troika of lenders, a total package could reach 17 billion euros – matching the island’s gross domestic product.
Outgoing president Demetris Christofias sought a bailout last June, but talks dragged as he resisted pressure to privatize profitable state companies.
The international community will also expect the next Greek Cypriot leader to pick up the pieces of a deadlocked U.N. push for reconciling both sides of the island.
Cyprus has been divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and seized its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.
Anastasiades said any fresh initiative should incorporate “active EU involvement” in the U.N.-sponsored peace process.