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16 June, 2024
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From ''black sheep'' to EU bridge

A reflection on Cyprus' 20-year journey from the EU's black sheep to a bridge between Europe and the Middle East


On the 20th anniversary of Cyprus' accession to the European Union, retired Ambassador Theophilos Theophilou reflects on the nation's journey from being labeled "the black sheep" to becoming a pivotal bridge to the Middle East.

Despite initial setbacks, including the rejection of the Annan plan for resolving the Cyprus issue in 2004, Theophilou emphasizes Cyprus' role as a conduit for humanitarian aid, exemplified by the "Amalthea" initiative sending aid to Gaza. He underscores the importance of Cyprus' EU membership, labeling it as the nation's most significant moment since independence, despite the challenges posed by Turkey's occupation of 37% of its territory since 1974.

Having advocated for Cyprus' EU accession throughout his diplomatic career, Theophilou highlights the nation's aspirations and obstacles. He recalls submitting a proposal for EU membership as early as 1975, culminating in Cyprus officially applying in 1990.

As Cyprus negotiated its EU accession, hopes were high that it would catalyze a resolution to the Cyprus problem, with optimism centered on Turkey's potential EU accession. However, Cyprus joined the EU without a resolution, prompting Theophilou to lament its status as the "black sheep" of the Union.

Reflecting on the aftermath of the 2004 referendum rejecting the Annan plan, Theophilou recounts diplomatic encounters where Cyprus faced criticism for its decision. Nevertheless, he recalls efforts to coordinate with Greece to secure immediate funding for the Turkish Cypriot community, underscoring Cyprus' commitment to unity despite divisions.

Despite Cyprus' EU membership providing security amidst regional instability, Theophilou stresses the ongoing impact of the island's divided status on EU involvement in resolving the Cyprus issue. He calls for increased EU engagement, likening Cyprus' situation to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, urging a similarly robust response from the EU.

Addressing the benefits and challenges of EU membership, Theophilou acknowledges economic gains while noting ongoing shortcomings in representation and awareness. He emphasizes the importance of Cyprus' assertiveness within the EU framework and the need for enhanced engagement at all levels of governance.

Echoing Theophilou's sentiments, Andreas Theophanous, President of Cyprus Centre for European and International Affairs, emphasizes Cyprus' potential to influence EU affairs despite its size. He urges proactive engagement to address unmet expectations and promote Cyprus' interests within the Union.

As Cyprus commemorates two decades of EU membership, the unresolved Cyprus issue remains a focal point, with repeated UN-led peace talks yielding limited progress. However, with renewed diplomatic efforts and steadfast EU support, hopes persist for a resolution to one of Europe's longest-standing conflicts.

[With information from CNA]

Cyprus  |  politics  |  Diplomacy  |  Europe

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