The Reunification of Cyprus and the E.U

The Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Chrisofias took office on 28th February 2008, and there have already been three major meetings between him and his counterpart, the Turkish Cypriot president Mehmet Ali Talat. A fourth is scheduled for the 3rd of September, making the presidents already two of the closely partnered Cypriot heads of state since the partition. Indeed Mehmet Ali Talat has called explicitly for an end to the division of the island, and Chrisofias seems keen to concur, with peace talks expected to flourish in that fourth meeting in September.

That said, the genuine possibility of a united Cyprus has many skeptics, and a number of historians and political commentators have voiced their concerns.

One key problem area for a number of experts is the insistence of the mainland Turkish government of the strategic importance of the island to the nation's security; indeed the island has a distinguished history as a buffer zone for some of Europe's traditional Great Powers, from its use as a gateway to the Suez Canal for the British Empire, and before then, as protection against expansion into the centre of the Ottoman Empire by rival powers.

But in a political climate now dominated by the European Union and the United Nations, and under the protocol of collective security, it becomes difficult for the Turkish authorities to justify the importance of Cyprus as a strategic land point; the founding principles of collective security in essence preclude fears for national security because the concept of the 'nation' and its rivalry with other nations is marginalized under a system that preaches the inherent virtuousness and brotherhood of its member states.

Certainly there are two points of contention in that issue. The first, that Turkey is not currently an E.U member state, perhaps justifies their claim that Cyprus stands to Ankara as a vital military possession. The second - the more universal point that collective security is covers in words what national security continues to practice in deeds - is more difficult to qualify.

On the subject of the validity of collective security, the open Turkish commitment to the need for national security is an interesting and potent one. Since the original formula for the concept of collective security first rose after the Napoleonic wars in 1815 and fell at the start of the First World War in 1914, historians have debated the true commitment of nations to the well being and security of its supposed allies.

Indeed, many critics of the system argue that the original 'Concert of Europe' was simply a new set of terms; heads of state preached brotherhood, collectivity and security, but it was simply new rhetoric for the age old diplomatic motivations of power politics and hegemony. Some would argue that hegemony - the political dominance of one nation over other nations - has always driven government and diplomacy, and that the same fact can be stated as legitimately now of the E.U and the U.N as it was of its earlier prototypes.

The problem with that summation with relation to Turkish and Greek unrest over Cyprus is simply that - whilst the concept of hegemony might still rule all diplomatic relations - the influence of the E.U over European affairs means that it will always be couched in different terms.

For Turkey to preach the need for national security, then, is to distance itself from the European community, and that ties to the first point, that Turkey is not a member of the E.U. As it uses terms outside the protocol, and as it is directly outside the E.U itself, its weight for political bargaining is severely weakened.

Indeed Greece, which has been a member of the European Community since the 1980s, perhaps holds greater sway with the rest of Europe, because its suggestions and supposed motivations are under the correct rhetoric.

With reunification of Cyprus being tabled as a possibility, what could bring action to a halt might simply be a matter of definitions.

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Chris Woolfrey writes for, and specializes in the politics of Cyprus.

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