Cyprus, the communists and anti-European populism

We know the drill now. A eurozone member finds itself in dire financial straits. A cabal of finance ministers, European officials, domestic technocrats and global financiers pushes the stricken national government towards severe public spending cuts and tax rises. The social unrest caused by these policies bleeds into some form of populism, be it left-orientated (Syriza in Greece; 15M in Spain), right-orientated (Golden Dawn in Greece) or somewhere in the fuzzy middle (Beppe Grillo in Italy).

William Brett is a researcher and writer on politics, anti-politics and European democracy

We know the drill now. A eurozone member finds itself in dire financial straits. A cabal of finance ministers, European officials, domestic technocrats and global financiers pushes the stricken national government towards severe public spending cuts and tax rises.

The social unrest caused by these policies bleeds into populism, be it left-orientated (Syriza in Greece; 15M in Spain), right-orientated (Golden Dawn in Greece) or somewhere in the fuzzy middle (Beppe Grillo in Italy). This fosters serious political instability with as-yet unknown consequences.

It is reasonable to expect that something similar will happen in Cyprus after recent developments.

The protests against the original bailout deal, which would have penalised all savers and not just those with more than E100,000 in the bank, bore the hallmarks of demonstrations in Greece and elsewhere. Anti-troika, anti-German, anti-EU and generally anti-elitist slogans predominated.

And as further austerity begins to bite – Cyprus must reportedly find E351m in tax rises and spending cuts this year alonesuch protests will likely grow more frequent.

So will we see a new populist party emerging in Cyprus and destabilising the system?

Perhaps not. Cypriot domestic politics is a strange brew, dominated by the indigenous question of unification and by the presence of AKEL, by far the most consistently successful communist party in Europe. The party has retained around a third of the Cypriot vote ever since independence in 1960 (despite the fall of the Soviet Union), and the country had a communist president from 2008 until earlier this year.

AKEL has bucked the downward trend for communist parties in Europe, and contributes to a surprisingly stable party system in Cyprus.

The chief reason for  AKEL’s electoral success has been its staunchly maintained pragmatism. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, and arguably before, the watchword for the party has been moderation. On the big questions facing Cyprus in the recent past – EU accession and the re-unification of the island – AKEL has pursued a distinctly centrist path.

Unlike its counterparts in France, Greece and Portugal, the party has broadly (although ambiguously) been in favour of European Union membership and played an important part in Cyprus’s accession in 2004. And AKEL maintains a popularly held desire for a peaceful, federalist solution to the Cyprus question.

But it is this very pragmatism which could see AKEL drifting away from the European mainstream. Once the prospect of at least four more years of austerity embeds itself in the Cypriot psyche, anger at European elites (or their perceived proxies in the German government) will seek a political outlet, just as it has elsewhere.

AKEL, which has always retained the patina of radicalism, does not need to shift very far to accommodate this anger. And since AKEL is an embedded party which already commands the support of a third of the electorate, it would not take long for a populist tide to engulf Cypriot politics.

From a European perspective, this represents a significant threat. Cyprus is a livewire which could undermine regional stability. One commentator has optimistically suggested that the relative economic parity between northern and southern Cyprus brought about by the financial crisis provides a route to a peaceful resolution of the Cyprus question.

The other possibility is that a wave of anger against external elites brings with it one of populism’s closest companions: nationalism. Nothing could be more threatening to the prospect of peace in the region. For those committed to a stable and pluralist Europe, Cyprus is yet another canary in the coal mine.

12 Responses to “Cyprus, the communists and anti-European populism”

  1. Canadian

    A very astute analysis, but there’s a major factor in all this that hasn’t been mentioned: Turkey, a NATO ally and EU aspirant continues to occupy roughly 40% of Cypriot territory, having used a coup as a pretext in 1974, and where the Turkish Cypriots were less than 20% of the population on an island without homogenous regions. Cypriots regard the lack of pressure on Turkey to pull its troops and work towards a true reunification an affront to human rights and UN principles. The failed “Annan Plan” of 2004 was widely seen by Greek Cypriots as a means to whitewash Turkey’s crimes on Cyprus and further cede sovereignty to Turkey. This preceded the current Eurozone debt crisis, where a heavy handed approach by the Troika in enforcing an unprecedented “bail-in” of banks has destroyed Cyprus economy by amputating its financial services sector. It would help the Cypriot people swallow the pill of enforced austerity if it would be combined with some justice on issues pertaining to the preservation of their very existence. One suggestion could involve the exploitation of newly found gas reserves. Cyprus and Israel have sought to co-operate on getting their gas resources to market. Turkey is aggressively wooing Israel to transfer Its gas through using Turkish infrastructure. In order for that to happen, an underwater pipeline would have to be built under Cyprus’ EEZ. A reasonable offer in exchange for this access would be for Turkey to sign the UN Convention on the Law Of The Sea, and to finally recognize the Republic of Cyprus, which would instantly grant Turkish Cypriots full EU membership and lift a huge road block on Turkey’s own accession.

  2. Canadian

    A very astute analysis, but there’s a major factor in all this that hasn’t been mentioned: Turkey, a NATO ally and EU aspirant continues to occupy roughly 40% of Cypriot territory, having used a coup as a pretext in 1974, and where the Turkish Cypriots were less than 20% of the population on an island without homogenous regions. Cypriots regard the lack of pressure on Turkey to pull its troops and work towards a true reunification an affront to human rights and UN principles. The failed “Annan Plan” of 2004 was widely seen by Greek Cypriots as a means to whitewash Turkey’s crimes on Cyprus and further cede sovereignty to Turkey. This preceded the current Eurozone debt crisis, where a heavy handed approach by the Troika in enforcing an unprecedented “bail-in” of banks has destroyed Cyprus economy by amputating its financial services sector. It would help the Cypriot people swallow the pill of enforced austerity if it would be combined with some justice on issues pertaining to the preservation of their very existence. One suggestion could involve the exploitation of newly found gas reserves. Cyprus and Israel have sought to co-operate on getting their gas resources to market. Turkey is aggressively wooing Israel to transfer Its gas through using Turkish infrastructure. In order for that to happen, an underwater pipeline would have to be built under Cyprus’ EEZ. A reasonable offer in exchange for this access would be for Turkey to sign the UN Convention on the Law Of The Sea, and to finally recognize the Republic of Cyprus, which would instantly grant Turkish Cypriots full EU membership and lift a huge road block on Turkey’s own accession.

  3. Canadian

    A very astute analysis, but there’s a major factor in all this that hasn’t been mentioned: Turkey, a NATO ally and EU aspirant continues to occupy roughly 40% of Cypriot territory, having used a coup as a pretext in 1974, and where the Turkish Cypriots were less than 20% of the population on an island without homogenous regions. Cypriots regard the lack of pressure on Turkey to pull its troops and work towards a true reunification an affront to human rights and UN principles. The failed “Annan Plan” of 2004 was widely seen by Greek Cypriots as a means to whitewash Turkey’s crimes on Cyprus and further cede sovereignty to Turkey. This preceded the current Eurozone debt crisis, where a heavy handed approach by the Troika in enforcing an unprecedented “bail-in” of banks has destroyed Cyprus economy by amputating its financial services sector. It would help the Cypriot people swallow the pill of enforced austerity if it would be combined with some justice on issues pertaining to the preservation of their very existence. One suggestion could involve the exploitation of newly found gas reserves. Cyprus and Israel have sought to co-operate on getting their gas resources to market. Turkey is aggressively wooing Israel to transfer Its gas through using Turkish infrastructure. In order for that to happen, an underwater pipeline would have to be built under Cyprus’ EEZ. A reasonable offer in exchange for this access would be for Turkey to sign the UN Convention on the Law Of The Sea, and to finally recognize the Republic of Cyprus, which would instantly grant Turkish Cypriots full EU membership and lift a huge road block on Turkey’s own accession.

  4. Canadian

    A very astute analysis, but there’s a major factor in all this that hasn’t been mentioned: Turkey, a NATO ally and EU aspirant continues to occupy roughly 40% of Cypriot territory, having used a coup as a pretext in 1974, and where the Turkish Cypriots were less than 20% of the population on an island without homogenous regions. Cypriots regard the lack of pressure on Turkey to pull its troops and work towards a true reunification an affront to human rights and UN principles. The failed “Annan Plan” of 2004 was widely seen by Greek Cypriots as a means to whitewash Turkey’s crimes on Cyprus and further cede sovereignty to Turkey. This preceded the current Eurozone debt crisis, where a heavy handed approach by the Troika in enforcing an unprecedented “bail-in” of banks has destroyed Cyprus economy by amputating its financial services sector. It would help the Cypriot people swallow the pill of enforced austerity if it would be combined with some justice on issues pertaining to the preservation of their very existence. One suggestion could involve the exploitation of newly found gas reserves. Cyprus and Israel have sought to co-operate on getting their gas resources to market. Turkey is aggressively wooing Israel to transfer Its gas through using Turkish infrastructure. In order for that to happen, an underwater pipeline would have to be built under Cyprus’ EEZ. A reasonable offer in exchange for this access would be for Turkey to sign the UN Convention on the Law Of The Sea, and to finally recognize the Republic of Cyprus, which would instantly grant Turkish Cypriots full EU membership and lift a huge road block on Turkey’s own accession.

  5. Canadian

    A very astute analysis, but there’s a major factor in all this that hasn’t been mentioned: Turkey, a NATO ally and EU aspirant continues to occupy roughly 40% of Cypriot territory, having used a coup as a pretext in 1974, and where the Turkish Cypriots were less than 20% of the population on an island without homogenous regions. Cypriots regard the lack of pressure on Turkey to pull its troops and work towards a true reunification an affront to human rights and UN principles. The failed “Annan Plan” of 2004 was widely seen by Greek Cypriots as a means to whitewash Turkey’s crimes on Cyprus and further cede sovereignty to Turkey. This preceded the current Eurozone debt crisis, where a heavy handed approach by the Troika in enforcing an unprecedented “bail-in” of banks has destroyed Cyprus economy by amputating its financial services sector. It would help the Cypriot people swallow the pill of enforced austerity if it would be combined with some justice on issues pertaining to the preservation of their very existence. One suggestion could involve the exploitation of newly found gas reserves. Cyprus and Israel have sought to co-operate on getting their gas resources to market. Turkey is aggressively wooing Israel to transfer Its gas through using Turkish infrastructure. In order for that to happen, an underwater pipeline would have to be built under Cyprus’ EEZ. A reasonable offer in exchange for this access would be for Turkey to sign the UN Convention on the Law Of The Sea, and to finally recognize the Republic of Cyprus, which would instantly grant Turkish Cypriots full EU membership and lift a huge road block on Turkey’s own accession.

  6. Canadian

    A very astute analysis, but there’s a major factor in all this that hasn’t been mentioned: Turkey, a NATO ally and EU aspirant continues to occupy roughly 40% of Cypriot territory, having used a coup as a pretext in 1974, and where the Turkish Cypriots were less than 20% of the population on an island without homogenous regions. Cypriots regard the lack of pressure on Turkey to pull its troops and work towards a true reunification an affront to human rights and UN principles. The failed “Annan Plan” of 2004 was widely seen by Greek Cypriots as a means to whitewash Turkey’s crimes on Cyprus and further cede sovereignty to Turkey. This preceded the current Eurozone debt crisis, where a heavy handed approach by the Troika in enforcing an unprecedented “bail-in” of banks has destroyed Cyprus economy by amputating its financial services sector. It would help the Cypriot people swallow the pill of enforced austerity if it would be combined with some justice on issues pertaining to the preservation of their very existence. One suggestion could involve the exploitation of newly found gas reserves. Cyprus and Israel have sought to co-operate on getting their gas resources to market. Turkey is aggressively wooing Israel to transfer Its gas through using Turkish infrastructure. In order for that to happen, an underwater pipeline would have to be built under Cyprus’ EEZ. A reasonable offer in exchange for this access would be for Turkey to sign the UN Convention on the Law Of The Sea, and to finally recognize the Republic of Cyprus, which would instantly grant Turkish Cypriots full EU membership and lift a huge road block on Turkey’s own accession.

  7. Canadian

    A very astute analysis, but there’s a major factor in all this that hasn’t been mentioned: Turkey, a NATO ally and EU aspirant continues to occupy roughly 40% of Cypriot territory, having used a coup as a pretext in 1974, and where the Turkish Cypriots were less than 20% of the population on an island without homogenous regions. Cypriots regard the lack of pressure on Turkey to pull its troops and work towards a true reunification an affront to human rights and UN principles. The failed “Annan Plan” of 2004 was widely seen by Greek Cypriots as a means to whitewash Turkey’s crimes on Cyprus and further cede sovereignty to Turkey. This preceded the current Eurozone debt crisis, where a heavy handed approach by the Troika in enforcing an unprecedented “bail-in” of banks has destroyed Cyprus economy by amputating its financial services sector. It would help the Cypriot people swallow the pill of enforced austerity if it would be combined with some justice on issues pertaining to the preservation of their very existence. One suggestion could involve the exploitation of newly found gas reserves. Cyprus and Israel have sought to co-operate on getting their gas resources to market. Turkey is aggressively wooing Israel to transfer Its gas through using Turkish infrastructure. In order for that to happen, an underwater pipeline would have to be built under Cyprus’ EEZ. A reasonable offer in exchange for this access would be for Turkey to sign the UN Convention on the Law Of The Sea, and to finally recognize the Republic of Cyprus, which would instantly grant Turkish Cypriots full EU membership and lift a huge road block on Turkey’s own accession.

  8. Whittaker David

    Or they could do what Iceland did and not convert private into public debt. What’s their growth now 3% or 4%? Bailing out banks is the worst possible outcome for the general public.

  9. gressy1970

    Also what has to be taken into account is why Cyprus joined the EU in the first place. At the time, as I remember, there was no illusion about it making Cyprus better off economically. The Cyprus currency (the pound) was already very strong – at that time worth about 30% more than a British pound – and the internal economy was self-sufficient in a wide variety of goods, not only food, but surprising things like plastics and cement. These were protected from competition by Cyprus being outside of the EU. Everyone knew this would not be the case after joining, and the result was that Cyprus is no longer self sufficient in food, and most manufacturing has gone.

    So why did Cyprus join the EU? It saw the EU as a kind of defence pact to protect it from possible future attack by Turkey. Economic independence was traded for what was perceived as increased physical security. That justification for staying in the EU / euro could still be argued, although now many Greek Cypriots are starting to wonder whether the EU would do anything to help them should Turkey ever invade again. The fear is the German and Dutch governments might just blame the victims again, as they have done in this banking crisis.

  10. Nicos Panayides

    You are suggesting that an internationally recognised country has to concede something for the right to be recognised by the country that occupies parts of it. Also you are missing the fact that Turkey is not blocked by Cyprus but by their own aggressive policy towards the EU and their inability to meet the acceptance criteria.

  11. Canadian

    You’re right, but this is an opportunity to expose the fact Turkey is the eastern Mediterranean’s problem child and regional buly. Now that Cyprus and Greece are facing economic hardship and the world’s eyes are on them, is the time to press Turkey to conform to international law. Turkey’s signing of the UNCLOS would be a huge win for Greece, which has delayed development of its own resources to avoid confrontation. The message is this: you want co-operation? Play by the rules!

  12. Distributist

    I am not sure what the left’s obsession with the E.U. is when this monster is anything but socialist – it is more like a corporatist state, combining the worst excesses of capitalism and socialism, without the equal benefits of either. It is undemocratic and seems hell bent on reducing countless millions into years of unemployment and poverty all for the sake of some political dream. The only honest thing is to allow the people to have their say and to reform the system or leave it.

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