There’s a very good reason why the EU response has been so lukewarm
By George Koumoullis
I SUSPECT the broader public has not realised how extremely worrying a development the delimitation agreement between Turkey and Libya is for Cyprus. It is not my intention to scaremonger but to underline the need for a Cyprus settlement before it is too late.
According to their memorandum of understanding, islands have no exclusive economic zone and therefore the existence of Crete, Rhodes and other islands in the eastern Mediterranean is completely ignored. The danger of Turkey announcing drilling in the Aegean Sea or southeast of Crete, which Greece considers its territorial waters, is now visible, even if the agreement with Libya is legally in limbo and, as such, invalid.
Last week Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on CNN Turk “we do not want a war with anyone but if I have to protect my ships, I will take all necessary measures whatever they are.” In response, Greece’s Foreign Minister Nicos Dendias said he did not believe in gunboat diplomacy, “but this does not mean that Greece does not have the capabilities and will to protect its national territory and national space.” If these were not the drums of war, what else could they have been?
So as not to be accused of shrieking desperately like another Cassandra about the prospect of war, here is an excerpt from an article written in the Greece paper To Vima, by professor of modern history Antonis Liakos. “The opportunism of the division of the eastern Mediterranean is a very serious issue. These are the small signs of a coming typhoon on the horizon.”
If for Greece there are small signs of a coming typhoon, for Cyprus the signs are of a coming tsunami because in a Greece-Turkey clash, while the Cyprus problem remains unsolved, Turkey would take over all of Cyprus to use as a bargaining card when hostilities are over. Perhaps the scenario of such a nightmarish development is improbable but it is not impossible.
As a result, a couple of serious issues are raised. First, for Cyprus to be saved, a settlement must be secured as soon as possible, but unfortunately the omens are not favourable. Mustafa Akinci must be re-elected as ‘president’. Second, the negotiations at the five-party meeting that will supposedly be convened after the elections of April 2020 must be successful. But even if we assume a settlement were agreed, it would have to be approved by a referendum. This appears an insurmountable obstacle considering the majority of Greek Cypriots are in favour of a two-state solution.
No ingenuity is needed to understand how low we have sunk. School education is so full of liberation references, while our Turkish Cypriot compatriots are described as the “eternal enemies”. Unfortunately, the constitution of 1960 sowed the seeds of hatred and partition by assigning the responsibility for education to each community instead of creating a secular ministry of education that would have schooled all citizens regardless of their religion. In this way, instead of education promoting a culture of brotherly and peaceful coexistence it promoted a culture of division, prejudice and hatred.
The baton from the schools is taken over by the nationalistic football clubs, which, inadvertently, act as the attorneys of Turkey that believes the Cyprus Republic is defunct. And what can one say about the archbishop, who has made it very clear he prefers the continuation of the status quo (partition) to influence religious Greek Cyprus that account for 30 per cent of the population? Or should I mention the landowners in Paphos and Limassol who have seen the value of their properties soar thanks to the occupation? There are also the big law and auditing offices which, together with the developers, are in seventh heaven thanks to the golden passports. We should be honest: the backbone of Cypriot society is in favour of partition which is why in a referendum a bizonal, bicommunal federation will again be rejected. I hope I am completely wrong.
The other issue raised is why our EU partners have been reacting in such a lukewarm way to the illegalities by Turkey? The answer is that international affairs are dominated by financial interests and not moral principles. Two years ago, in an article in this paper, I tried to explain that economic relations determined all social and political goals and, in addition to this, social classes, the economy, religion, institutions, values and norms and, perhaps most importantly, the course of history.
The population of Turkey is currently 83.8 million and is expected to reach 100 million by 2031, while its economic growth has been among the biggest in the world since 2000. Consequently, Turkey constitutes a huge market for the EU as it is its fifth largest partner in imports as well as in exports, while the EU is the main trading partner of Turkey. A big part in the huge rise in the Turkish GDP was played by foreign direct investment by big companies from the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Italy. Should we really wonder about the EU’s unwillingness to impose sanctions on Turkey, considering that it would be against its interests?
The rhetoric of support for and solidarity with Greece and Cyprus by the EU is a given but this will not in itself stop Turkey. More drastic measures would be needed for this such as for example the suspension of the customs union agreement between Turkey and the EU. Would the EU dare take such a step for the sake of Cyprus and Greece? I doubt it. Economic interests override everything.
George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist