By Alper Ali Riza
The European Union has many problems on its plate at the moment. The prospects of a British exit from the EU and a Greek exit from the euro zone are the most pressing; deteriorating relations with Russia over Ukraine, the most dangerous and important historically; and there is of course the perennial Cyprus business, which is not going to set the world on fire, although it is a bit of a nuisance.
Whoever said of Cypriot politicians that ‘having realised that Cyprus could not be a great power they decided to become a great nuisance,’ was not being unfair.
The possibility of Brexit and Grexit – the nomenclature favoured by financial journalists – is the result of a tension that exists between domestic democracy and the obligation to respect the rules of international bodies like the EU. The electorate in each state voted for parties that promised to renegotiate the rules of the game. In each case the club is not really happy to accommodate such mandates and consequently Britain may leave the EU altogether and Greece the euro zone. Or will they?
The political conundrum that arises is: what should happen when political parties win power on electoral platforms that are not compatible with their country’s obligations to the EU?
According to a German commentator, such governments should never be accommodated at all ‘pour decoureger les autres’. According to this approach it is utterly irresponsible for political parties to make promises the implementation of which depends on basic treaty changes which other states do not want, as in the case of Britain, or at huge expense to the tax payers of other states, as in the case of Greece, and politicians should be discouraged from making such promises.
In the absence of political union it is obviously undemocratic for the electorate of one state to impose on the electorates of other states. However, this is also a powerful argument for closer political union involving fiscal and budgetary as well as monetary union, since if the EU were politically united like the USA the issue would not arise.
Britain is dead against such political union. Indeed she encouraged enlargement eastwards in the hope of forestalling political union. There is, it has to be said, a certain poetic justice in Britain being swamped by migrants from East Europe which has not been lost on many federalists in Brussels, whose schadenfreude at Britain’s expense is understandable. Britain will have to bite the bullet in the referendum in 2017 and decide either to stop being such an awkward spoil sport or leave the EU altogether.
Scotland, Wales, the City of London, and most people in Britain under the age of 40 will probably vote to remain and everyone will live happily ever after as part of one big European family. A fudge here and a compromise there will do the trick because as everyone in the Conservative party knows euro-phobia in
Britain is more a condition that afflicts their members of parliament rather than most of the people.
As for Greece, in the end the likelihood is that her government will choose to stay in the euro zone.
After all the Syriza government was not given a mandate to fight austerity to the point of leaving the euro zone, as indeed the Greek Economics Minister told the BBC the other day. Where the Greek government has been at fault is not so much in asking for Greece’s debts to be rescheduled or forgiven, which can happen in extreme circumstances to any country; indeed paradoxically it happened to Germany shortly after World War II.
The Greek government’s mistake is in appearing not to take seriously a basic principle of economic life: that no system based on exchange of promises works unless making and keeping promises is taken seriously.
Being ‘dedicated followers of fashion’ and going cap in hand with bravado and braggadocio, as the leaders of Syriza do while Athens haemorrhages financially, is a bit like playing the violin while Rome burnt!
Ukraine on the other hand is a problem wholly of the EU’s making. It was caused by an alliance of unreconstructed American cold war warriors and anti-Russian fanatics in Brussels, mostly from Russia’s former satellite states, which is costing everyone billions in masochist sanctions not to mention the trouble and expense of a new Cold War. Russia is a European country with a cultural, literary and musical heritage up there with the best in Europe!
The raison d’être of the EU according to its founding fathers Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman was to avoid war in Europe by making it ‘as unthinkable as materially impossible’. Imposing sanctions on Russia is inconsistent with this founding principle of material interdependence which applies generally across the whole continent of Europe, not just to Germany and France.
The whole of South Europe, for whom sanctions against Russia have been particularly deleterious, must stand up and be counted in the Councils of Europe so as to make sure this madness is not renewed in August when these idiotic sanctions are due for renewal. There must be some fudge and compromise better than this madness!
The existence of the Cyprus problem ten years after Cyprus joined the EU is an absurd state of affairs also, although, to be fair, unlike Ukraine, the EU is not to blame. The principle that it was wrong for the Turkish side to have the ultimate say on whether Cyprus joined the EU, coupled with the possible exercise by Greece of her power to bloc enlargement of the EU in East Europe, enabled Cyprus to join by promising to support the UN plan to solve the problem in any referendum rather than solving it first. In the event this did not happen and Cyprus joined without solving her problem.
In legal terms this meant that the EU legal regime had to be temporarily suspended in the areas of Cyprus inhabited by Turkish Cypriots, known in legal jargon as areas in which the Republic of Cyprus does not have effective control. This was necessary because under the Treaty of Accession the whole of Cyprus joined the EU in anticipation of a solution which failed to materialise
This was done by Protocol 10 attached to the Treaty of Accession afterwards which will cease to have effect once there is a comprehensive settlement or it becomes clear that there is no realistic prospect of a comprehensive settlement. The first scenario appears in terms from the Protocol itself. The second follows by necessary implication having regard to the aim and purpose of the Treaty of Accession and the Protocol which was for the whole of Cyprus to join. The second scenario needs to be spelt out to the electorate on both sides by the EU before a further referendum is held, to enable them to take into account the legal consequences of deciding to vote for or against a settlement.
Thus, for the Turkish Cypriots rejecting a settlement will not mean that they can go it alone and remain EU citizens with the freedom to live work study and settle anywhere in the EU. One of the criticisms of the Scottish Nationalists during the referendum campaign in September 2014 was that they were unwilling to accept that if Scotland left the UK she would have to re-apply to join, which is what the Turkish Cypriots would have to do if they broke from RoC.
For the Greek Cypriots, rejecting a settlement would mean that the EU will work out a way of assimilating the EU legal order with all its incidents and benefits in the area inhabited by Turkish Cypriots, even if it remains outside the effective control of the Republic of Cyprus. This is how the EU works: by fudge and compromise.
Alper Ali Reza is Queen’s Counsel and part time judge in the UK