On May 1st, Cyprus entered the European Union along with nine other nations. Of these new members, Cyprus is the most economically advanced and prosperous. Nevertheless, the fact that the Republic of Cyprus voted overwhelmingly against uniting with its northern counterpart prior to EU entry (effectively denying entrance into the EU to the latter) has provoked considerable indignation in Europe and has even prompted some to refer to Cyprus as “the Eurocrat’s permanent headache.” The EU regards the failed referendum as contrary to its central objectives of reconciliation, cooperation, and unification. A real assessment of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s unification plan indicates, however, that Europe is demanding too much from Cyprus, and that there are multiple potential problems with the mentality of the EU.
Here is a brief account of what Cyprus looks like right now: the southern two-thirds of the island, known as the Republic of Cyprus, is primarily Greek Cypriot, while the northern third of the island is inhabited mainly by Turkish settlers and Turkish Cypriots, containing about twenty percent of the island’s overall population. Turkey regards the northern part as an independent state, even though the rest of the world views it as territory occupied by Turkey. The north is severely underdeveloped and relies exclusively on Turkey for trade, while the south is a tourist-heavy, prosperous trade center. Average per capita income in the north is $3,000, compared to about $13,000 in the south. If the two had united before May 1st, the European Union would have had to deal with a vastly impoverished territory intricately dependent on Turkey.
What makes the European Union think it could undertake the entry of a united Cypus with all this baggage? The purported plan under Kofi Annan was to build up the northern part and make it as strong as what is presently the Republic of Cyprus. This seems like an immense task considering how wretched and downtrodden the north is known to be. Perhaps more importantly, Turkish troops are actually occupying the northern region of Cyprus. What this means is that the EU would have to include within its borders troops belonging to a country outside of it, an unwise and unsafe move. Under Annan’s plan, the 35,000 Turkish soldiers currently stationed in the north would be reduced to less than 1,000. Even so, this hardly changes the fact that foreign soldiers would still persist in occupying the north. Moreover, there is no guarantee that all those soldiers would actually disappear—even now, they exist illegally.
Arguing that Turkey might eventually join the European Union is a weak way to justify the presence of Turkish soldiers. If Europe had formally declared its intention to bring Turkey into the EU, this argument would be a somewhat more legitimate, although still unsatisfactory. As it is, though, there is no guarantee that Turkey will join the EU at all—for reasons of economy, geography, and past human rights violations. Given the EU’s obvious reservations on the matter of Turkey’s inclusion, it seems prudent not to be so hasty about including a territory that has been, in the last thirty years at least, inseparable from Turkey.
Another issue to consider is the implication of the Annan plan for the Cypriot people. Annan’s plan, which the Greek Orthodox Church calls “the work of Satan,” would have created a transitional government consisting of a co-presidency, a Council of Ministers, and a transitional federal parliament, all evenly split between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The federal government, even in the final, post-transitional version, would still only occasionally take proportional representation into account. This seems unfair toward the Greek Cypriots, given that they constitute about 80% of the island’s population and are already rather self-sufficient.
Greek Cypriots have come under harsh condemnation for their rejection of Annan’s plan to reunite the two regions of the island. Alvaro De Soto claims that this shows that Cyprus does not understand what the EU is about—reconciliation, building bridges, and so on. But the expectation that a state should be willing to give up so much autonomy for the ambiguous value of unification reflects a possible problem in EU mentality. While bridge-building is important, it should be done with prudence and caution, not in a reckless and idealistic manner. Cyprus’ gesture shows that it does desire reunification, but not at simply any price.
The European Union is now at a point at which it must reevaluate its purpose and future. This year it accepted ten new members, and it looks to the future with the expectation of further growth and expansion. These changes are unavoidably fraught with economic, political, and cultural danger. Cyprus’ example should teach Europe that the process of expansion requires a sober awareness of the sacrifices and potential dangers of the changes involved. Unification does not have limitless value. In some cases, as Cyprus evinces, unification can simply not be worth the cost. Moreover, expansion is necessarily accompanied by some loss of autonomy and cultural distinctiveness.
Thus, instead of chastising Cyprus so heavily, the EU should be able to respect this choice and view it as a reminder that we threaten certain values every time we cross another bridge. What we need are careful cost-benefit estimations, not overzealous expansionist propaganda. Perhaps the EU’s so-called “permanent headache” can serve as a blinking light.
Katerina Apostolides is a rising junior in Silliman College and Co-Publisher of the Yale Free Press.