Twelve olive trees have been planted in a circle, like the stars of the EU flag, in the gardens of the Filoxenia. Inaugurated on 15 May by the President of the Republic, Demetris Christofias, the former hotel transformed into a conference centre will be Europe's nerve centre in Nicosia until the end of December. A thorough revamping, costing an estimated 28 million, will offer functional, modern and bright facilities where member state representatives and the press should feel as if they were in Brussels - but with sunshine.

An adaptable plenary hall surrounded by interpreting booths, a panoramic restaurant with an outside smoking room for working lunches, a bright area but protected from the sun for the traditional family photos and, practically next door, the CyPress, the state-of-the-art press centre with secure access: everything is in place to host in optimal conditions more than 100 meetings, including 15 ministerial sessions, between July and December. These meetings will draw an estimated 20,000 European visitors, and not insignificant ones, to the island.

Clearly, officials in Nicosia are taking very seriously the country's responsibilities as it assumes the Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, on 1 July. This will be its first time at the helm since joining the Union in 2004. Cyprus has been preparing actively since 2007, as President Christofias himself has said. The exercise has been budgeted with 62 million over a three-year period and Cyprus has sought to learn as much as it can from the experience of some of its partners: Greece, of course, which has four Presidencies behind it, but also Hungary and Poland, which joined the EU in the same wave of accessions as Cyprus.

Its first EU Presidency will nevertheless be snubbed by Turkey, judging from certain official statements made in Ankara. No surprise here, where officials make a point of separating completely the Cypriot question' and the EU Presidency.

Andreas Mavroyiannis knows that these six months will be no picnic: "We are going to make every effort to rise above differences of opinion and to reconcile the interests of the 27. On 31 December, we will have succeeded if we have managed to take forward the key European issues, first among them the multiannual financial framework". The lynchpin of the future Cypriot EU Presidency, this 56-year-old diplomat, who has served in Paris, Dublin, Brussels and New York, was appointed last October as deputy minister to the...

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