Cyprus has many reasons to celebrate Europe Day and, most importantly, 20 years of membership of the European Union. There is no doubt that as a country we have grown up politically, economically and socially as a member of the Union. There may still be some way to go before the Republic reaches full maturity, but significant progress has been made thanks to the adoption of the EU acquis and its directives.

There is now an EU framework within which government and politicians have to operate, no longer able to act in the arbitrary ways of the past. Restrictions have been placed on them, while accountability and transparency have increased. There is still room for improvement, but politicians now know that they could be called to account by the Commission and face infringement procedures for actions that ignore directives or failure to implement them. The golden passports industry was eventually stopped by the EU.

For citizens, there is more protection against state arbitrariness which was rampant before membership while the rights of minority groups are now safeguarded. People’s rights no longer exist just in theory, but they have to be practically respected. We may take all these things for granted today, but older generations know that the situation was very different in pre-membership days, when political connections meant everything.

Arguably, the most important benefit of membership has been the increase in security. A third of Cyprus may still be under Turkish occupation, but people feel much more secure now that the Republic belongs to large grouping of states. Membership offers a level of security that did not exist before 2004, a level of protection against Turkey which, despite the occasional confrontational rhetoric, wants to maintain good relations with the EU.

The only negative of membership is that it has led to complacency regarding the Cyprus problem, our politicians believing there is no need for a settlement now we are part of the EU. This position emerged just before accession, on claims that a better deal than the Annan plan could be secured once Cyprus was an EU member. Twenty years later, even though a better deal was on the cards and was rejected by Nicos Anastasiades in 2017, the prospects of a settlement have all but vanished. It is a pity because Turkey’s influence on the north would be drastically reduced if it became EU territory as part of a settlement. Our politicians refuse to see this.

We fully agree, however, with President Nikos Christodoulides’ view that “twenty years after our country’s accession, the transformation of our country for the better is clearly evident.” It is a pity that we are reluctant to allow this transformation to expand to the northern part of Cyprus.