Cyprus in Europe Jan03

I grew up in Tanzania where, as a little boy in the 1950s, I knew many Greek Cypriot families. The Cypriots worked as engineers or managers on sisal, tea, coffee and cotton plantations. They also ran hotels, restaurants and travel businesses. Arvanitis, Krusonatakis, Pericles, Panayotou, Manoli and Mantheakis were familiar to me as they were friends of my family. The Cypriot families had a good rapport with the European, Asian, Arab and African communities. They were successful in their profession and businesses and socially active in expatriate community life. Whilst my father shared their passion for poker and their relaxed lifestyle, I enjoyed their food and music. These Cypriots shared the same family traditions and values as my family.

In 1960, the British left a workable constitution for Cyprus that required the participation of both the Greek majority and the Turkish minority on the island. The system was not perfect but it allowed the two communities to live in peace and feel that they shared a common national identity. All the people on the island felt that they were Cypriot, not Greek or Turkish.

With a stable economy, secure land and real estate, clearly defined political rights and responsibility it set this island on a path of prosperity and peace. The Constitution even made provision for Cyprus to join the EU if both Greece and Turkey, neither of whom were members of the EU at the time, agreed to such membership.

The Greek military invasion of Cyprus sowed the seeds of misery for Cyprus. The Turkish retaliation and occupation have aggravated and sustained the misery for all Cypriots. Dislocation of family and friends, loss of assets, disruption of trade and industry and the humiliation of a divided nation are the scars of such political interference from Greece and Turkey. Two communities, professing different faiths, co-existed peacefully as they shared many traditions. Intervention has destroyed this accord and created misery for both Greek and Turkish Cypriots for over 30 years.

How can this problem be resolved? Ongoing negotiations between Clerides and Denktash offer some hope of a settlement. Kofi Anaan’s plan of a Swiss type of federation has been suggested as an alternative to the 1960 British constitution for the island. The EU has offered financial incentives for a quick and lasting settlement.

The year 2003 is the year of the Greek Presidency of the EU. Turkey has a new Government that is moderate and keen to apply for EU Membership. This offers Greece a unique opportunity to formulate a policy that will cut its political interference in Cyprus. Such action will put pressure on Turkey to do the same. Both Greece and Turkey should state clearly that Cyprus must be as it was before the Greek invasion, geographically undivided and politically united. The EU, Greece and Turkey would underwrite compensation claims. The free movement of capital, labour and services would then resume one year before the day Cyprus becomes a full member of the EU. A Swiss type of Confederation would suit Cyprus as much of the interaction in the EU is based on “regions” within a member country. Regions in Cyprus, with their own Assemblies, would interact with a Federal Parliament as well as directly with the European Commission. This would diffuse the tensions that sometimes exist in a country with two communities divided by religion and language.

Cypriots are known for commercial flair, and the island could be economically vibrant if a just and fair settlement was achieved. A settlement in Cyprus would bring huge benefits for Greece in the EU. It would enhance its reputation and strengthen its power to influence Turkey’s application to be a Member in future. It would substantially improve its trade and political influence with Turkey as well as the whole of the Middle East. It would restore the dignity, pride and nationhood of Cypriots. A multiethnic Cyprus can once again be European!