A big proportion of the Cyprus Republic’s population does not have a positive picture of the European Union. According to the Spring survey of the Eurobarometer, only 42 per cent of the population of Cyprus have a positive picture of the EU, well below the 52 per cent average for the Union. At least the majority (53 per cent compared to the EU average of 65 per cent) still consider membership a good thing.
A possible explanation could be that many Cypriots do not approve Europe’s treatment of Russia, with only half of respondents saying they agreed with the sanctions; the EU average for agreeing with sanctions was 80 per cent. Arguably, the most revealing response of Cypriots was to the proposition that the safeguarding of freedom and democracy should be a priority even if this affected prices and the cost of living. Only 48 per cent of Cypriots agreed with this whereas the EU average was 59 per cent. The majority in Cyprus (51 per cent) rate controlling the cost of living a higher priority, even if this affected the protection of European values.
We seem only interested in European values and principles when we are asking our partners to punish Turkey for violating the Cypriot EEZ or for opening up the fenced area of Varosha. Our commitment to these values starts and finishes with Turkey. When EU values are displayed in the case of Russia, which many Cypriots look up to, either for financial reasons or because they have been taught to hate the West and have bought the myth that Moscow has a principled stand on the Cyprus problem, they have no enthusiasm for them. The prevailing view, even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was that the EU is guilty of double standards, unwilling to put its values above the interests of its member-states in the case of Turkey. Sanctions against Russia seem to have reinforced this view.
Are we really in a position to take the moral high ground against the EU, when more than half of our population believes that its financial well-being and protecting its pockets should be given priority over the safeguarding of European values? Our politicians are interested in European values only when they want to put Turkey in the dock. They see EU membership as nothing more than a means to get back at Turkey for the occupation of Cyprus. Cyprus has blocked the opening of chapters in Turkey’s accession negotiations in the past, sought the imposition of sanctions on Turkey for the violations of its EEZ and tried to blackmail the EU by blocking sanctions against Belarus. The EU’s refusal to have its relations with Turkey dictated by its second smallest member state with a tendency for grandstanding, is viewed as a lack of solidarity by Cyprus.
What we fail to acknowledge was that the EU never wanted to take on board the Cyprus problem nor was it prepared to have its relations with Turkey determined by the Cyprus Republic’s agenda. Brussels wanted the Cyprus problem solved, but we deceived it about our readiness to accept the Annan plan in 2004, while in 2017 President Anastasiades was held responsible by the EU for the failure to reach an agreement in Crans-Montana. It was never going to reward a president it considered untrustworthy and very close to Moscow by putting its relations with Turkey on the line, so he could score points in Cyprus. We might consider this unfair, but we have brought this onto ourselves.
Last Monday, in a small group interview reported by Politico website, the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen spoke about ending the unanimity requirement in foreign policy decisions. “We really have to move to qualified majority voting,” she was quoted as saying. The article cited the example of Cyprus to explain how some countries used “the unanimity requirement as leverage to force action on some other topic.” It reminded that “Cyprus delayed EU sanctions against Belarus for months because of concerns in Nicosia about issues relating to Turkey.” It is a stark illustration of the unflattering way that Cyprus is viewed in Brussels, using its membership with the purpose of getting at Turkey and creating problems for the EU; the golden passports saga did not enhance our standing either.
It is high time we took a deep look at how we have used our membership of the Union since joining in 2004, either to score points against Turkey or to make money. And when our politicians do not get their way, especially in the case of Turkey, they turn on Brussels accusing it of double standards and betraying its values and principles, rhetoric that is embraced by the population. We need to change our approach now. The government and political parties should make it a national objective for the Republic to become a constructive and reliable member of the Union and change public attitudes towards Brussels. Only then, would we be able to build our country’s trustworthiness and credibility in the Union, and stop being a member that is considered more trouble than it is worth.