The relations between Cyprus and Britain hit the headlines again recently when Messrs Brown and Erdogan signed a strategic partnership agreement in the latter part of October. Certainly all countries sign bilateral treaties and agreements in order to promote their own perceived interests. What has annoyed Nicosia is that provisions of this particular Agreement – between an EU member state partner of Cyprus and an EU candidate – were seen as running against the interests of the Republic of Cyprus.
This came to sour the climate of an already difficult relationship. Indeed the overall political relationship often becomes uneasy and at times tense, with Greek Cypriots perceiving British policy over Cyprus to have been consistently pro-Turkish. It is a widely held perception – not only in Cyprus – that in 1974 Britain fell short of carrying out its Treaty obligations. It should also be noted that there is a widespread perception that Britain and the NATO alliance in general enjoy multi-dimensional benefits from the sovereign bases in Akrotiri and Dhekelia without exhibiting reciprocity toward the Republic of Cyprus.
On the other hand, it is acknowledged that there are strong economic and social relations between the two countries. Suffice to say that in the economic domain the net surplus for Cyprus in the balance of payments from transactions between the two countries, including the bases, is about 10% of Cyprus’ GDP. In relation to the social aspects of the relationship, one cannot ignore British practices in Cypriot business law and the broader legal framework, the educational exchanges, the presence of a sizable Cypriot community in the UK and the increasing number of British expatriates and businessmen in Cyprus.
Understandably the Bases constitute an important chapter in this relationship. Within the framework of Cyprus’ potential participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme and other collective security institutions of the EU, new approaches can and must be pursued. But above all the UK should acknowledge that while serving British and broader western interests, the Bases must also guarantee the security and the territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus. To the present day this remains part of the British debt toward Cyprus.
The UK clearly considers Turkey crucial to its interests. Foreign Secretary David Miliband in what was described even by sections of the British media as ‘cherry picking what suits him’ made clear in his Bruges speech on November 15 that Turkey must be allowed to join the EU. Obviously, for the UK, between Cyprus and Turkey, the balance tilts effortlessly towards the latter. Nonetheless, there may be a set of common values and converging interests, particularly in the context of the EU, that can be jointly and successfully pursued by UK and Cyprus. One of the major British and indeed western objectives is to promote a new political landscape in the Middle East which may be conducive to greater tolerance, further democratization and less violence. The promotion of such an objective may incorporate a policy toward encouraging a more open society, as well as economic growth and development. Toward this end Cyprus may play a modest role as an economic/business, academic and financial regional centre. If there is also a solution to the Cyprus problem which not only allows but also encourages the peaceful and constructive coexistence of the Greek-Cypriot Christians and Turkish-Cypriot Moslems, the benefits and the symbolism will be even stronger. Consequently, the UK should also see Cyprus’ vital objectives with a more sympathetic perspective.