To Be Absolutely Frank

The European Way to Peace

Can the E.U. succeed where the U.N. failed?

By 3.13.03

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The so-called Green Line on the island of Cyprus is the southern limit of what Turkish Cypriots call the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, and what Greek Cypriots call the "Turkish Republic of North Cyprus." That's the northern third of island, which the Turkish army "occupied" (or "liberated") in 1974. Subsequent population transfers have left the south almost purely Greek and the north almost purely Turkish.

One of the first people I met last Sunday, after crossing the Green Line headed north, was a fellow whose accent, sports clothes and SUV marked him as a middle-class Englishman on vacation. The only anomalous detail was his complexion, darker than usual for the natives of that other green and pleasant island. He was a Londoner of Turkish Cypriot origin, which shouldn't have surprised me, as many Cypriots and their children live in that city of immigrants.

What was remarkable was what he was doing: waiting for a friend to cross over, so that the two could spend the day together at the beach. The friend was a neighbor from London, a Greek Cypriot who was spending his vacation in the south, and enjoying the rare privilege of admission to the north (where even people with Greek-sounding surnames are regularly turned away).

The two friends had flown from the same city to the same island but had landed in different airports and were now having to go through the inconvenience of a border crossing (or as Greek Cypriots would say, a "border crossing") just to see each other. All because of the supposedly implacable hatreds dividing their two communities.

The next day, leaders of those communities met in the Hague with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the aspiring architect of their reconciliation. That meeting was a failure, and it now looks as if Cyprus will not be reunified anytime soon. Yet thinking of the two friends from London encourages me to think that reunification will happen, and that it will happen under the auspices of another international organization.

Most Americans take the European Union even less seriously than they do the U.N., but that's not realistic. The E.U. is a U.N. with teeth. Its 15 member states recognize the Union's laws and regulations as superseding their own, and 12 of those states have handed over their power to print money to the European Central Bank. These numbers will soon rise with the accession of 10 new member states.

One of the members-to-be is the Republic of Cyprus, which governs the south while claiming sovereignty over the entire island -- sovereignty recognized by all foreign nations save Turkey. Cyprus has been guaranteed a place in the E.U. next year even if it fails to end partition.

Young Turkish Cypriots, who face dim job prospects in their isolated and underdeveloped country, are desperate to rejoin the Republic and thus enter the E.U. Greek Cypriots, who have less incentive to reach a quick resolution, and are accordingly more ambivalent, also want to join the E.U., not least as protection from the Turkish army troops on their island. Cypriots of both communities think of themselves as Europeans and want to be recognized as such. However long it takes them to forge a civic identity under which Greek and Turk can live together simply as Cypriots, that identity is bound to be European -- as it is already for those two men from London.

The E.U. has far greater economic, legal and military clout than the U.N., and it enjoys a special psychological edge when it comes to Cyprus. The U.N. has been there for 40 years, since the first post-independence inter-ethnic strife. No doubt its blue-bereted soldiers (now mostly British and Argentinean, and at one time Canadian) have prevented much violence, but the sheer length of their stint inevitably links them to decades of failure, especially the partition they could do nothing to stop. Whereas the E.U. represents the future.

If the E.U. can broker the island's reunification and a lasting peace, it will earn the sort of international respect mere euros can't buy. Foreign policy experts will flock to Brussels to find out how the narrow-minded Eurocrats, infamous for their concern with questions like the proper standard for tomato sauce viscosity, managed to reconcile Muslims and Christians in a post-9/11 world. And Turkish Cypriots will once again have a passport they can actually travel on.

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About the Author

Francis X. Rocca ia an American writer in Rome, Italy.