Interview: Brain drain and the enemy within (Eleni Theocharous)

Interview: Brain drain and the enemy within (Eleni Theocharous)

Eleni Theocharous is a Cypriot Member of the European Parliament and a member of the ECR Group of the European Parliament.

Is tourism the only economic pillar of Cyprus and does it perhaps need a second one?

The tourism sector plays a major role in the Cypriot economy because of its unique natural beauty, historical monuments and warm weather, but it is certainly not the only mainstay. The energy sector is developing into a second one. The two major gas discoveries, "Aphrodite" in 2011 and "Calypso" in February 2018, have given a real boost to the energy sector. Recently, progress has also been made in expanding renewable energy sources through international investments, which also strengthens the diversification of our energy industry. However, the discovery of gas reserves has exacerbated rather than alleviated tensions between Cyprus and Turkey. Turkey is claiming the rights to the Cypriot gas sources, and this also determines the negotiations on a possible reunification of Cyprus. It is currently open whether the gas fields are part of the problem or part of the solution.

In addition to its strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus can also play a crucial role in the EU energy market. Cyprus is an important hub in the eastern Mediterranean between North Africa and Europe. The EuroAsia Interconnector power line, which will connect the electricity grids of Cyprus with Greece and Israel, is an important step. This connection will contribute to the EU's energy security and lead to sustainable development by integrating renewable energy sources for the EU. There are further discussions on the construction of another interconnector, the EuroAfrica Interconnector, to connect the electricity grids of Egypt, Cyprus and Greece. If Cyprus becomes a centre of the energy economy, it will contribute important strategic advantages and geopolitical influence to the EU. This could lead to a viable and appropriate solution to the Cyprus problem.

What is the current impact of the brain drain, i.e. the emigration of young people from Cyprus?

In 2012, Cyprus was hit by high unemployment due to the financial crisis. As a result, 18,100 inhabitants, the majority of them young people aged between 18 and 28, left the country to seek work abroad. Since then, numerous platforms such as "Invest Career" have been established by the Cyprus Investment and Promotion Agency (CIPA) to attract intellectual capital back to Cyprus. This has stemmed the brain drain. Such programmes bring our young talents together with companies in the country. Although fewer people are planning to leave Cyprus since it was set up, we are still seeing the migration of the young generation with bachelor and postgraduate degrees who are overqualified for a small island like Cyprus. This can be seen in the digital economy as well as in the country's social index, which accounted for below-average human capital in 2017.

There is also a shortage in the hospitality, health, engineering and construction sectors. These sectors require the greatest attention. Thanks to EU funding and the country's geopolitical situation, many international companies and organisations have now settled in Cyprus. This has created more vacancies and career opportunities, making it easier for the younger generation to find suitable jobs in Cyprus and could stop the brain drain process. We are optimistic and continue to work on solutions.

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