Article for NewEuropeans.net: ‘Where now for Cyprus?’
Results in Sunday’s general election showed that Cyprus’s ruling conservatives took the lead in Sunday’s general election, while a far-right party won its first seats in the legislature amid voter disillusionment after a 2013 financial meltdown. With the voting tally at 100 per cent, and an unprecedentedly high abstention rate, the right-wing Democratic Rally party was ahead with 30.6 per cent of the vote followed by Communist AKEL with 25.6 per cent. Compared to the previous elections of 2011, those two main parties on the Cypriot political scene suffered setbacks. AKEL’s Communists lost up to seven percentage points while Democratic Rally lost 3.7 percentage points. By contrast ELAM, an extremist party forged on the coat-tails of Greece’s Golden Dawn, scraped past a newly-imposed 3.6 percent electoral threshold and won up to two seats, according to preliminary estimates. So where does Cyprus go from here? Well, its problems have not changed. The ongoing Cyprus problem, the recent financial collapse, and Turkey’s membership of the European Union are key issues that remain. The Cyprus problem is the longest dispute the EU has ever had to deal with. Since 1974 negotiations have been hopeless, and still we have a divided island, with a so called “North Cyprus” which the EU refuses to recognise. But there is hope from this election. Nicos Anastasiades has proved to be the closest yet to a reunification deal, and Akinci is also pushing for a solution. Combine that with optimism of Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Schulz, and Ban Ki-moon, who all say a deal is ‘highly likely’ this year, there is certainly a feeling amongst those in charge that this year could be the year. Sunday’s election was the first since Cyprus required an international bailout in 2013, partly because of the exposure its systemic banks had to Greece’s write-down of sovereign debt. It introduced a ‘bail-in’ on client’s deposits at one major bank and wound down a second, leaving thousands of disgruntled bank deposit holders. Since then, Cyprus has returned to growth, with rising employment, investment from abroad increasing, and most importantly has exited the International Monetary Fund program. You could say that Cyprus is the example Europe needs in regards to dealing with financial problems. However, one problem still remains and that is the outward flow of labour from Cyprus, migrating abroad to places such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Greece. The loss of tax revenue and increasing spending on pensions is something Cyprus will have to tackle if it wants to maintain its recent economic recovery, and not fall back to austerity which was the key to getting the economy back on track. And now, Turkey. Its membership has caused quite a row amongst European nations. Cyprus has made it absolutely clear that it will use all voting powers available, in order to block its access to the EU unless a solution is found to the Cyprus problem. But looking at the current state of play, the EU has already promised free movement for Turkish citizens, increased funds for the migrant crisis, and most importantly fast-track membership to the EU. So what makes us think Cyprus could have a mass influence over its future membership? Well, given it can veto, and influence the likes of Greece to veto too, Turkey could very well be blocked entry if it doesn’t change its ways. Nations such as France have also been contemplating a referendum for Turkey’s membership, whereas the UK Vote Leave campaign is using Turkey’s membership talks as a reason for the UK to leave the EU, as they argue immigration from such membership could further put a strain to public services. The problems have not ended there. Cyprus now has an even bigger problem on its hands… The upcoming referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU. As weird as it may sound, the outcome could very well have an impact, not least because 72,000 expats live there, but because Britain is a guarantor protector of Cyprus in the case a war ever again breaks out. Cyprus is one of two nations (along with the Maltese) who are eligible to vote in this referendum, so it is important Anastasiades sends a clear message to voters back in the UK that the relationship should continue with the UK remaining in the EU. The EU-Cyprus relationship has always been strong. From not recognising the occupied area, right down to allowing its small economy to join the Euro currency, and prosper. Focusing on the future, there are two key priorities. One, resume peace talks and get that solution. Two, make sure Cyprus gets the Cypriot voters back in the UK to vote to stay.