'We talk about the unification of Cyprus, not Europe'

Myria Vassiliadou.
By Sander Heijne for NRC Internatioal

Myria Vassiliadou (39) leads the European Women’s Lobby. She is a sociologist who specialises in gender issues and has been published in several books and scientific journals.

In the run-up to the European elections, what issues are being debated in your country? Are these national issues or EU-issues?

Myria Vassiliadou: "Political parties in Cyprus are predominantly discussing national issues. The few European topics that are being debated - and I want to be clear that there are very few - tend to centre around migration and border control and the financial crisis. But the financial crisis seems to be hitting Cyprus quite late and not as hard as other European countries, therefore it is not much of an issue yet."

A key issue in European politics is (or should be) market ideology. In your country, is there a debate about whether the market ideology of Brussels needs amendments, or instead needs to be defended and even strengthened?

"No. There is no debate about this at all in our popular media. Of course there is a some discussion about this at a national level, but that doesn’t include the influence or regulations from Brussels."

Another key issue is euroscepticism. Would you say that, in your country, support for the EU has changed? Is there a populist protest against Brussels?

"Well, I can only speak for the Republic of Cyprus and not about the occupied part in the north. But I think the situation would be similar there. In contrast with many other EU member states, people in Cyprus firmly support the European Union. Euroscepticism hardly exists and I think that is because of the political and historical context of the island. The European Union makes Cyprus part of a larger entity, which increases protection and security and reduces the likelihood of an escalation of the political conflict here."

Historical context of the island

Cyprus was a British colony until 1960. Cyprus split into a Turkish and a Greek part in 1974 when the Turkish army invaded the island after a pro-Greek coup in Nicosia. Although Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus and has criticized the EU for allowing the republic to become part of the union, Cyprus is not opposed to Turkey's entry into the EU. Recent talks between Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot leaders have spurred hope for a future unification. However, the Greek islanders voted against a reunited Cyprus in 2004, while the Turkish were in favour.

How would voters in your country like the EU to develop itself? Do they support the Lisbon treaty? A joint foreign policy? A more powerful central bank?

"As I said, there is hardly any debate about most of these matters in Cyprus. Do the people support the Lisbon Treaty? The majority of the political parties do. No referendum was held here, but the treaty was accepted without public debate and based on little information.

"As far as the people of Cyprus are concerned, I believe, the European Union predominantly represents security. Within that context, I assume that most of the inhabitants would like the European Union to act as as united force. Of course Cyprus also profits from economic benefits that come with EU-membership, but the island already had a high standard of living and relatively low unemployment. The island is wealthy and a net contributor to the EU. Institutions such as a more powerful central bank aren’t being debated at all.

"Economic developments are pushed down on the agenda because of political and security issues. With under a million inhabitants, this is a small country. Within the European Union, Cypriots seek security above all. The key issue is how the EU could help us to work towards a political solution for the division of Cyprus.

"If you talk about European unification, I doubt many Cypriots even have an opinion about it. In Cyprus, people talk about the unification of the island, not the continent."

Could you name an anecdote that captures the atmosphere around the European elections in your country?

"In my present position as secretary general of the European Women’s Lobby, I’m leading a campaign to get more gender equality in decision-making positions in Europe. Currently, only 31 percent of the seats in the European parliament are held by women. However, not a single Cypriot MEP is female. At a recent campaign event in Cyprus with representatives from several political parties, I was under the impression that it was the first time they actually had to sit down, debate and be held accountable on the subject of gender equality - despite it being a key priority of the European Union. This is not an exception. I think most politicians here wouldn’t have much of an an idea or clear opinions about any European-wide issue."

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