European Council’s decision will help to overcome the institutional crisis

Cyprus Institute for Mediterranean, European and International Studies
The Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty was perceived by the vast majority of Cypriots as a serious setback in the efforts for a stronger and more democratic European Union. The conclusions of the European Council of December 2008 regarding the fate of the Lisbon Treaty, even though it was not widely covered by the Cypriot mass media, was perceived by many of our interlocutors as a step forward towards a more coherent and efficient European Union.[1]
Commenting on the conclusions of the European Council, Cypriot President, Demetris Christofias, expressed his overall satisfaction, adding that the decisions taken by the EU leaders during the European Council of December 2008 will help the EU to overcome the institutional crisis caused by the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.[2]
Moreover, diplomats conveyed to us their intuition that the agreement reached during the December 2008 EU Summit, regarding the European Commission’s constitution of one Commissioner from each member state, will be beneficial to small members such as Cyprus.[3] On the other hand, the diplomats pointed out that, as the Treaty of Lisbon needs to be ratified by all member states in order to obtain legal force, and since this did not happen as scheduled by the end of 2008, the treaty will come into force on the first day of the month following the last ratification. Our interlocutors, however, did not preclude the possibility that perhaps new obstacles might be raised by other member states that have not yet ratified the treaty.
It must be noted that the Cypriot House of Representatives had ratified the Treaty of Lisbon on 3 July 2008. At a day-long session, 31 votes were cast in favour, 17 against, while one MP abstained.[4] Cyprus was the twentieth EU member state to ratify the treaty. Main opposition party, Democratic Rally (DISY), coalition parties Democratic Party (DIKO) and Socialist EDEK, and opposition European Party EVROKO, voted in favour of the treaty. The only party opposed was the ruling Communist party AKEL, whose leader, President Christofias, later stated that, as elected President of the Republic, he had to honour the signature of his predecessor and support the treaty.[5] The Cyprus Green Party abstained, not, as it said, because it was against further European integration, but because of the non-democratic way the treaty was being promoted.
The parties which voted in favour of the Lisbon Treaty, in speeches delivered by their MPs and party leaders, stressed that the treaty, despite its weaknesses, is the way for the EU to move forward and unify Europe, strengthen the role of Cyprus within the EU, strengthen the powers of the European Parliament and national parliaments, and help the EU gain a strong voice on the international scene.[6] They criticised the stance held by ruling Communist party AKEL and said that the treaty will strengthen institutions which contribute to the security of Cyprus and will provide Cyprus with added instruments in its efforts for a political settlement.
Opposition DISY leader Nicos Anastasiades also said that the ratification of the treaty sends a positive message to the rest of Europe. AKEL MPs, in justifying their opposition, said that the treaty represents a neo-liberal approach, that European citizens have not been properly informed on the provisions of the treaty, that it weakens smaller EU member states like Cyprus, that markets will be completely deregulated therefore hurting consumers, and that the NATO alliance remains the main European defence structure. The leader of AKEL’s party group in the parliament, in responding to criticism by the other parties on its position on the Lisbon Treaty, noted that, since President Christofias was elected to office, support for the EU amongst the Cypriots of the free part of the Republic had risen by 20 percent. The leader of the Green Party in his speech clarified that his party is certainly not opposed to the EU “moving forward”; however, he called both for a better treaty and for the treaty to be submitted to a referendum in all EU member states. Most MPs maintained that Cypriots were unaware of the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty and that more awareness-raising was necessary.
The political parties’ debate on the Treaty of Lisbon and each party’s arguments were perceived by political analysts as a reliable indication of the orientations each party will develop during the forthcoming European Parliament elections of June 2009. Thus, it had been assumed that, during the forthcoming campaign, the ruling AKEL party would follow a more Cypro-centric agenda, while the main opposition party DISY, but also government coalition parties DIKO and EDEK, would follow a more Euro-centric approach but coupled with strong elements related to the Cypriot Republic’s “existential” political problem.
Most of these assumptions were largely verified during the first public debate on the 2009 European Parliament elections, held in the studios of the “Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation” on 9 February 2009. Representatives of most Cypriot political parties voiced optimism about greater voter participation this time.[7] Simultaneously, they committed themselves to communicate more effectively to the public the importance of their vote for the day-to-day issues that concern all Cypriots. This, then, was a telling departure from the 2004 election when the Cyprus problem was nearly the sole issue that preoccupied the voters and nearly all political parties. In the debate on 9 February 2009, there was widespread agreement that, together with the Republic’s national, existential problem, the most crucial and urgent issues faced by the Cypriot public are those of the global economic crisis, illegal immigration, crime, and energy. An even more activist performance in the future by the Cypriot MEPs on a broad European Parliament agenda was also considered most appropriate, since it could also serve to increase the EU’s involvement in and further concern about the Republic of Cyprus’ problem of partial occupation by a candidate state.
Concerning the appointment of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, our interlocutors in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs believe that this is certainly a move towards better coordination among the EU-27 and further integration especially in the sector of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.[8] On the other hand, some Cypriot political analysts argue that the position of the High Representative, currently held by former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, raises some concerns whether this is a step towards further ‘European integration’ or a step which enforces the Euro-Atlantic core of the EU. Nevertheless, it is also hoped that Barack Obama’s election to the US Presidency may well align the two diverse tendencies in the future.

[1] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos at the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicosia, January 2009.

[2] Demetris Christofias, President: Statements, Brussels, 12 December 2008 (as reported by all Cypriot media).

[3] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos at the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicosia, January 2009.

[4] Discussion in the House of Representatives on the Lisbon Treaty, 3 July 2008 (as reported by all Cypriot media and the Cyprus News Agency).

[5] Demetris Christofias, President: Statements, Brussels, 3/4 July 2008 (as reported by all Cypriot Media).

[6] Discussion in the House of Representatives on the Lisbon Treaty, 3 July 2008 (as reported by all Cypriot Media and the Cyprus News Agency).

[7] For an account of the 2004 European Parliament election in Cyprus, see Costas Melakopides: ‘Cyprus’, in: Juliet Lodge (ed.): The 2004 Elections to the European Parliament, Houndmills, UK 2005, pp. 73-80.

[8] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos at the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicosia, January 2009.