Last Wednesday, a group of Turkish-Cypriots, dressed up in white masks and clothes, symbolically protested for being the ‘ghosts’ of the European family and asked for their better EU integration. The event was largely initiated by the Turkish-Cypriot civil society, which represents a very interesting aspect of Cyprus’ European integration in recent times.
During the years leading up to Cyprus’ EU accession, the linkage between resolution to the Cyprus dispute and EU integration led Turkish-Cypriot civil society to embrace ‘Europeanism’ and guide the public pro-solution/ EU trend.
Indeed, the support of the EU brought many civil society actors in collective action. The ‘This Country is Ours’ and the ‘Common Vision’ were some of the platforms that advocated a
‘solution in Cyprus followed by EU membership [which] means investment, production, employment, science and technology, and social security [and] the end of our isolation from the rest of the world’.
Civil society also undertook the task to inform people on matters related to the EU and the ‘Annan Plan’, the UN-proposed plan for reunification that was under negotiations. A very notable example is the ‘European Information Office’, which was established under the aegis of the Turkish-Cypriot Chamber of Commerce. Besides, civil society organised many events, such as the very popular rallies, in favour of solution and EU integration.
In April 2004, the Annan Plan, although supported by the Turkish-Cypriots, was rejected by the Greek-Cypriots and Cyprus acceded to the EU as a divided country, with EU law suspended in northern territories. To address this challenging situation, Brussels sought to develop ties with the Turkish-Cypriots and support development and preparation for implementation of EU law in northern Cyprus, in the event of future reunification.
As a result, through many programmes, the EU has provided important technical and financial assistance to the domestic civil society, while the European Parliament has also built bridges of communication with many NGOs.
Besides, the Chamber of Commerce has continued to play a significant role and try bring the locals closer to the EU, also through the establishment of a rather strong representation in Brussels.
In this context, there still exist an important place for civil society in the process of Cyprus’ EU integration. Interestingly, the problematic relations between Brussels and the Turkish-Cypriot administration that the EU does not recognise seem to have shifted attention to non-state actors, most notably civil society.
Yesterday’s protests remind us that Turkish-Cypriots remain far from integrated into the European family. Indeed, the efforts of the EU to assist north Cyprus are crucially undermined by the unresolved political situation in the island.
Having said that, the EU is finally a reality in Cyprus, in both sides of the ‘Green Line’. The Turkish-Cypriot civil society has played an important role in this process of European integration and it is expected to do more so in the future.