1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia
Friendship with Russia is Valued and Critical
Russia is one of the closest political and economic partners for Cyprus and there is no evidence or inclination for that to change in the near future. Russia is considered to be the great power most supportive to Cyprus with regard to its national problem of the continuous division of the island and Turkish occupation since 1974, including its actions in the UN and the Security Council.
Furthermore, the Cypriot economy is, to an extent, dependent on Russia; there are extensive Russian investments in Cyprus, and approximately 40,000 permanent Russian residents, including 8,000 Russians who received citizenship. In 2014 Cyprus benefited from the presence of 636,000 Russian tourists, with the Russian tourist market second only to the British.
During the tensions following the Ukrainian crisis, Cyprus had to maintain a balanced position between its support of the EU’s course of action and its desire to perpetuate its good bilateral relations with Russia. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cyprus had to concede to the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia following the Ukrainian crisis even at its own financial and potentially political cost. The administration’s position is that the sanctions should not be used and aimed as ends in themselves, and that in fact the political and economic repercussions may have been disproportionally costly to EU member states rather than Russia as the primary target of the sanctions.
As a nation-state suffering from the repercussions of the Turkish invasion in 1974 and the resultant continuing occupation, Cyprus supported this course of action resting on the principles of international law rather than on expedient geopolitical criteria. However, the Republic of Cyprus always aimed to maintain good bilateral relations with Russia. Evidently, the Cypriot efforts were successful; witness to this being the recent visit of the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexey Meshkov, to Cyprus, which reconfirmed the maintenance of good bilateral relations and the belief that these relations can be further strengthened in the future.
The political parties have been very vocal regarding the country’s bilateral relations with Russia and in their concern for how they have been adversely affected by the actions of the EU. The President of the centre-right Democratic Party (DIKO), Nikolas Papadopoulos, stated that Cyprus’ relations with Russia have been shaken by the decisions of the EU and that we must work to regain the trust of a traditional ally in the Security Council, including taking specific measures to facilitate our relations in the future. The newly elected President of the Movement for Social Democracy Party (EDEK), Marinos Sizopoulos, stated that Cyprus needs to abandon its unilateralist foreign policy and to bolster its relations with traditional alliances, such as the case with Russia. This has been portrayed in the media as a hardening of EDEK’s stance on the national issue as well as its broader outlook on foreign policy. The press spokesman of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) – and the major party in opposition to the current administration – characterised the stance of the EU towards Russia as punitive and adversarial, as well as indistinguishable from the regional geopolitical objectives of NATO and the United States.
Greater Orientation to the Mediterranean Region
The events in Ukraine have not altered the position of the Cypriot government on EU relations with Eastern Partnership states. The position remains that balance must be maintained in terms of the allocation of funding between the Eastern and Southern blocs of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Cyprus typically positions itself with the rest of the Mediterranean bloc of EU member states on this issue in support of the more-for-more principle. In addition, Cyprus considers the security threats deriving from the southern borders of the EU as more immediate and significant than the possibility of the perceived threat that Russia might pose to EU states.
The most extreme position on the above issue is taken by AKEL which perceives a concerted effort to channel funds from the Southern to the Eastern bloc of the ENP for geopolitical purposes that go beyond the stated aims of the policy and, ultimately, are geared towards the geopolitical isolation and containment of Russia.
Satisfaction with Achievements Based on Low Expectations
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed satisfaction with the results of the summit while noting that expectations were low with respect to the potential outcomes from the summit on the major geopolitical questions that concern the region. The evaluation of the ministry is that the expectation of concrete outcomes on the mobility issues on the agenda did not materialise, because the evaluation of the Eastern Partnership states did not justify such a development. This is especially true for the cases of Ukraine and Georgia, as they are expected to work towards the implementation of the second phase of their Visa Liberalization Action Plans. The administration supports the position of the EU, emphasising that the fulfilment of the technical criteria must be prioritised as a precondition to subsequent steps towards further integration. Even then, progress should not be assessed purely on the basis of technical criteria and the Commission, but should be as the result of Council decisions. Furthermore, there was no linkage between these developments and progress towards future EU accession; the administration stresses that many EU member states – including Cyprus – consider these two paths to be independent of one another.
With respect to the security concerns in the region – as those were approached during the summit – the administration fully supports the commitment of the EU to the fundamental principles of international law with respect to the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of states within internationally recognised borders.
Russia is Not a Threat, but an EU Army Would Be Beneficial
Cyprus does not consider that Russia presents a credible military threat for the EU, which should avoid engaging in neo-Cold War rhetoric. Instead, the position of the government, as stated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is that the EU should collaborate with Russia on mitigating regional and international security threats. To that end, the administration believes that the creation of a European army would be beneficial, as it would enhance the capabilities of the EU for coping with contemporary security threats. Furthermore, the administration supports the inclusion of Russia as a contributor and stakeholder of EU security, as opposed to the creation of an army to be used antagonistically towards Russia. Lastly, the position of the government is that the creation of such a security apparatus would not be antithetical to NATO objectives or detrimental to NATO-EU relations.
Once again, the major opposition to the government’s stated position on this issue comes from AKEL, which supports a fundamental overhaul of the ENP as well as the broader external strategy of the EU including decoupling of its policies from NATO and even going as far as to support the dissolution of the North Atlantic alliance.
2. EU Enlargement
If Criteria Are Met, Support for Expansion
The position of the Republic of Cyprus regarding enlargement is not altered based on political considerations; on the contrary, it rests on principles of international law and the fulfilment of all EU accession requirements. Subsequently, the Ukraine crisis has not changed in any way the view, positively or negatively, on enlargement in the eastern neighbourhood. That is, Cyprus does not believe that eastern enlargement should either be halted or expedited because of the crisis.
Cyprus has ratified association agreements with Georgia and Moldova but not with Ukraine. Relations on Ukraine on this issue have been marred by the reaction to the crisis. The position of the Cypriot administration is that the Ukrainian government took the punitive measure to threaten the cancelation of the double taxation treaty between the two states in response to their perception of a pro-Russian Cypriot position during the crisis. Given the extensive economic interdependence between the two states prior to the crisis, the resultant uncertainty was detrimental to the Cypriot economy. A de-escalation of this tension would be favourable to both states from an economic perspective as evidenced by the fact that the Ukrainian parliament decided to maintain the status quo and the existing double taxation treaty. However, this issue notwithstanding, the Cypriot administration does not link the accession prospects of Ukraine to the crisis as stated above.
A final issue noted by the administration with regards to the accession prospects of the Eastern Partners is the growing perception that – unlike Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine – Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus are drifting away from the EU sphere of influence by aligning themselves increasingly with Asia. Armenia and Belarus are formal members of the Eurasian Economic Union and Azerbaijan has been traditionally linked to both Russia and Turkey, in addition to placing disproportionate emphasis on energy investments which could potentially clash with the interests of EU member states.
Greatest Challenges for EU Expansion Lie with Turkey
As mentioned, the Republic of Cyprus is in favour of enlargement, as it considers it to be a method of democratization, and liberalization, which ultimately lead to peace and stability. However, all prospective members, including those in the Western Balkans and Turkey, must first fulfil all the accession criteria in the same way that other states have done in the past. Thus, there are no key concerns that are now more or less important than in the past regarding EU expansion. It must be noted however that Cyprus is also in favour of deepening European integration and not just widening the territorial boundaries of the Union. Indeed, just widening might be neither easy nor desirable at this point given the intra-EU problems that need to be stabilized and dealt with by the existing members.
The obvious issue with respect to EU-Turkish relations for Cyprus is the continued occupation of its territory by Turkey. Cyprus considers that formal recognition of the Republic of Cyprus by Turkey and compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions that call for an end to the occupation are preconditions to Turkish accession. Nevertheless, the Cypriot government is supportive of Turkish accession based on the belief that the adoption of EU norms, values and, modus operandi by Turkey will lead to peace and stability in the region.
While no major Cypriot political party explicitly opposes Turkish accession, there has been a steady call to link Turkish accession with the Cyprus problem. Following the recent visit of the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to Cyprus, the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) expressed the view that the EU must put pressure on Turkey in order to reach a viable and sustainable comprehensive settlement. This is in line with AKEL’s traditional support for Turkish accession to the EU. Cypriot MEP Takis Hadjigeorgiou of AKEL reiterated a common perception in Cyprus that other EU member states benefit from the troubled relationship between Turkey and Cyprus by not having to openly oppose Turkish accession. Other MEPs, including those of the ruling Democratic Rally party (DISY), have called for stricter measures to be taken by the EU as part of the EU Commission’s Progress Reports in order to prioritize Turkish-Cypriot relations on the accession agenda.
- “Russia’s True Designs for Cyprus – Cyprus Mail.” Cyprus Mail. September 16, 2015.
- “Europe Has No Need of an ‘EU Army’ or of NATO.” AKEL. March 9, 2015.
- “Cyprus Central Bank Governor: Ukraine Crisis Threatens Return to Growth.” Reuters. March 30, 2014.
- “Anastasiades Rules out Cyprus Solution If Turkey Doesn’t Withdraw Troops.” TodaysZaman.
This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘Eastern Neighbours and Russia: Close links with EU citizens’ (ENURC) in collaboration with TEPSA (Trans European Policy Studies Association). The project focuses on developing EU citizens’ understanding of the topic of the Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia and aims at encouraging their interest and involvement in this policy which has an impact on their daily lives.
The EU-28 Watch project is mapping out the discourses on these issues in European policies all over Europe. Research institutes from all 28 member states are invited to give overviews on the discourses in their respective countries.
This survey was conducted on the basis of a questionnaire that has been elaborated in March 2015. Most of the reports were delivered in June 2015. This issue and all previous issues are available on the recently relaunched EU-28 Watch website: www.eu-28watch.org.
The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives significant funding from the Otto Wolff-Foundation, Cologne, in the framework of the ‘Dialog Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and financial support from the European Commission. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.