Up to now, 2016 has been a tough year for the EU. The refugee crisis, growing public discontent due to economic crisis and austerity, mounting populism, and BREXIT have put the European project in danger. Recently, an unpredictable US President-elect has been added to the EU’s headaches, as nobody knows how the transatlantic partnership and the ‘West’ will look like under the Trump Administration. Amidst all this uncertainty one thing is for sure: the EU has to survive and for that reason to find its place in this new world and prove for what it stands. The negotiations over the Cyprus question are lying ahead as a crucial test; a test, which as all tests can be either an opportunity or one more slap in the face of the EU.
If the Cyprus question was a hard puzzle for the EU to solve in the past, now that it is connected with an erratic Turkish foreign policy and the turmoil in the Eastern Mediterranean, it is becoming a crucial issue on which the EU cannot be an observer; it needs to be proactive and have a clear position. The EU’s stance towards the developments concerning the settlement of the Cyprus question is important for the process of the negotiations and their outcome, and also for the EU’s future. Whatever the EU is going to do or not to do, is going to send strong messages inside and outside Europe, to the world in general and to the Eastern Mediterranean in particular.
It has been consistently argued that there is a momentum for a solution, and also that this is the last chance for a peaceful settlement. The ‘last chance’ argument is strongly supported by Turkish Cypriots, namely that if a solution is not to be found this time, an annexation by Turkey constitutes a highly possible development. Despite the fact that such an argument is totally incompatible with the normative structure that underpins European and EU’s international relations for decades, it has gained much popularity; maybe not unjustifiably, if we consider the recent increase in Turkish unpredictability and authoritarian behavior. Therefore, the next few months are critical.
The EU should be prepared for the case of an agreement, as well as for the potential of the Cyprus question to remain unresolved and for the negotiations to be continued. In the case of settlement, the EU should safeguard that it will be viable and compatible with the EU Law. It should make clear that it would be unacceptable for Turkey to have any kind of influence or military presence to an EU’s member state. If the two parts won’t manage to reach an agreement, Turkish aggressiveness and the potential of a de facto solution will become an EU issue; Cyprus is an EU member state and it cannot be left alone.
In any case, if the EU accepts any solution other than the one reversing the consequences of the illegal invasion and occupation, then it will give a carte blanche to Vladimir Putin and any other leader with revisionist ambitions. In its recently drafted Global Strategy the EU states that “[W]e will not recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea nor accept the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine”. Will the EU accept any settlement that would legitimize the illegal invasion and occupation, and destabilize Cyprus, one of its smallest member-states? Moreover, it will give the opportunity to populists and anti-EU voices all across the continent to contend that for one more time the Union gives into Turkey’s demands. Nonetheless, it will show to other small states in the Central and Eastern Europe that if threatened by a more powerful neighbour, the EU is incapable of providing any help and support. All in all, for one more time in 2016, the EU’s influence and status will be decreasing.
In contrast, if the EU fights for a fair and viable solution, not only as an issue of justice, but also, and most importantly, as a matter of order in the international system, then it is going to prove that values and interests can go hand in hand, and that there is a reason for which we need both pragmatism and idealism in international politics. It will restore its status and show why Europe and the world need the EU. In less than six months since the BREXIT referendum and the publication of the EU’s Global Strategy, the Cyprus question provides the best opportunity for the EU to prove that it not only talks the talk, but also it walks the walk!