Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Cyprus Talks Opinion

A federation explained

The European parliament in session. Political equality within the EU means a tiny country like Cyprus can derail policies supported by the other 27 members

There is a serious misunderstanding over what political equality and federation actually mean

IT IS VERY clear there is much confusion regarding political equality in a federation not only among ordinary people but also among politicians.

It would help to crystallise the meaning of political equality if we fully understood what federation was about and how it differed from confederation. Very often, the Edek leader as well as other politicians have claimed – 100 per cent wrongly – that the Cyprus settlement being negotiated centred on confederation and not federation.

These assertions and declarations may have been entertaining if they did not have multiple, negative consequences, as they encourage the mistaken impression among the public that the result of the negotiations would in reality be the creation of two states – a solution admittedly worse than the continuation of the status quo.

The basic difference between a confederation and a federation is that the former does not constitute a state on its own. It is a union of sovereign states, members of the UN, with the purpose of formulating an agreement that cedes to common institutions the decision-making on certain specified issues such as defence, foreign trade etc.

In a federation, the exact opposite happens. The only state is the federation and not its component states, which in the case of Cyprus would be the two states as they are called in the US, or cantons as they are called in Switzerland or districts as they are called in Canada. It should be underlined that there is no text-book model of a federation that is uniformly implemented in the 20 federal states in which 40 per cent of the earth’s population lives.

The vagueness surrounding the meaning of ‘political equality’ is down to the lack of proper information regarding this fundamental principle of federation. The usual refrain of those involved in the negotiations when they refer to political equality is “as this is outlined in UN resolutions”, a reference that is anything but enlightening.

They had an obligation to explain that these resolutions did not refer to the equality of two states, or to the quantitative equality at all levels of power but to the effective participation in the exercising of power and decision-making. In other words, the quintessence of political equality is that neither of the constituent states would be able to change the constitution unilaterally or take decisions that would change the agreements that had already been made.

The assortment of comments by Diko officials and other missionaries of rejectionism lead us to the conclusion that either they did not know what was meant by political equality or they did not accept it. On a recent television discussion, a leading Diko official stressed that we could not leave the Turkish Cypriot constituent state to block decisions by the Cyprus Republic as if this were an outside intervention.

The most disappointing though was this man’s complete ignorance of the concept of political equality, which requires unanimity between the two constituent states on decisions about the constitution and international agreements. And to highlight his ignorance he brought up the EU (which does have elements of a federation as the member-states can modify and change its founding treaties as long as there was unanimity) citing the case of Belgium which could not sign the EU-Canada trade agreement (CETA) because of the strong opposition of the Belgian region of Wallonia. As a result, the Belgium government was unable to sign the agreement which was abandoned for a period of time (until Wallonia was persuaded to back the agreement) despite the fact that it had the support of the other 27 member-states.

Of course, there is the danger of the Turkish Cypriot state becoming a satellite of Turkey, with the latter playing a vital role in decisions on constitutional changes of the federal republic. It is up to us to prevent such a development. There are many things we could do but I would be deviating from the subject if I discussed them.

It suffices for me to say that if some people carry on not considering Turkish Cypriots as our compatriots, displaying banners in football stadiums with the “Cyprus is Greek” slogan, flying enosis flags at ‘nationalist’ clubs, and if we continue to teach in schools that Greeks were the Lord’s chosen people, then we will once again push Turkish Cypriots into the arms of Turkey.

It is time we all – Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots – understood that securing of the harmonious co-existence of the two communities would be the result of the progress towards the liberation of thought, towards unanimity and solidarity between the two, towards the demolition of mainly religious and racial prejudices and the exposure of those guided by personal interests.

There is no greater irony than the objections to political equality coming from the citizens of Lilliputian countries that are the beneficiaries of this principle, and for them to declare all the time that it was undemocratic for 18 per cent of the population to block the decisions of 82 per cent. It is as if they were not aware that in the EU, Cyprus, which represents a mere 0.2 per cent of its population, can block the decisions of the remaining 99.8 per cent.

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist

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