Earlier this week, southern Cyprus voted to join the EU without an agreement to reunify the island nation with its Turkish northern half. The development is an embarrassment for a united Europe.
Split since 1974, only the southern half of Cyprus will enter the EU while the north continues to lag behind.
The vote was a mere formality -- a unanimous demonstration of support for Cyprus’s entry into the European Union in May 2004. But a trace of uneasiness still remains despite the positive signal that the Mediterranean island will soon become part of Europe.
The still divided island, split between the Turkish north, whose representatives could not vote on EU membership, and the Greek south, has been unable to overcome its differences and unite in a single government. As a result only the southern Greek portion of Cyprus will benefit from membership in the European Union. The poorer Turkish half will remain an outsider to the EU and continue to trail behind the Greek half economically.
The nearly 30-year division of the island is an anachronism, which can only be described as embarrassing -- embarrassing for a Europe that is on the verge of tearing down old borders and yet accepts a divided country into its own fold. And it’s especially embarrassing for the politicians on both sides of Cyprus, who have not moved forward a bit from their decades of entrenchment, and whose suggestions for unification or a two-state solution are undermined by the single goal of gaining as many advantages as possible for their own people.
The reality is dismal. Although the border between the Greek and Turkish sides has become more open in recent years, it nonetheless exists in the form of ugly border control points scattered across the middle of the island and emotionally in the heads of the Cypriots.
For this reason, the Greek Cypriots would do best to refrain from celebrating the EU entry as a victory over the Turkish side. This would only rip open old wounds and add to the bitter feeling of inferiority already sensed by the Turkish Cypriots. More than anything, the Greek side should see the EU vote as a first step on the way to reconciliation with the other half of the island and to the creation of a joint European future.
The Turkish Cypriots, for their part, must stop viewing the now sealed and approved EU entry for the southern half of the island as a threat. The approaching European membership for the Southern Cyprus creates conditions to which the Turkish side must respond. Membership for the Greek side practically begs the question of whether or not there is a realistic alternative to a later EU entry date for the Turkish side.
The answer can only come as a resounding no. The continuously rumored tightening of economic ties between Northern Cyprus and its "motherland" Turkey cannot compete with the advantages Southern Cyprus will gain once it becomes a full-fledged member of the EU. As a result the significant economic disparity between the two island halves will only widen and bring more frustration and envy on the part of the Turkish Cypriots.
In the discussion of the island’s future, one thing cannot be overlooked – Ankara’s powerful pull on Northern Cyprus. Just as Greece played an important role in insisting on Southern Cyprus’ EU entry in order to increase its own weight in the European bloc, Turkey, too, is following its own national agenda. That means, the government and military in Ankara will only agree to reunification of the island and remove its troops from the northern half when the price is right. In other words, until Turkey receives firm confirmation for its own EU entry, Northern Cyprus is unlikely to join its southern neighbor in the European Union.