EU’s easternmost country, just 0.2% of eurozone economy, takes helm amid rows with Turkey and over UK enclave
Perched on a bluff high above the sea, the ancient theatre at Curium is among Cyprus’s most spectacular sites. It is here, at 8pm on Thursday, that the Mediterranean island will officially launch its first EU presidency with Europe’s great and good gathering in the dramatic setting.
Cyprus is the EU’s most easterly point and, at the height of the continent’s debt woes, the European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, and other senior mandarins are keen to put on a display of solidarity. Even cushions are being provided to ensure that the assembled dignitaries are protected against the Greco-Roman theatre’s famously flinty steps. But no amount of comfort will hide the fact that Curium – once the favoured site for many a gladiator fight – was chosen precisely because it lies outside the EU, on the Akrotiri “sovereign base area”, a slither of territory that is technically British.
For the president, Demetris Christofias, who will address the audience, the military reserve – among 99 square miles retained by Britain when the island won independence in 1960 – is a “colonial bloodstain”. The veteran communist, like many on the left, wants the area – excluded from the EU when Cyprus joined the bloc in 2004 – to be returned to the former crown colony. In holding the takeover ceremony at Curium, he hopes to reassert the point.
It is vintage Christofias. Alone among EU leaders, the 65-year-old Cypriot politician still believes in the tenets of Marxist-Leninism. Assuming the EU presidency at a time of unprecedented upheaval for the 27-member union is by far the biggest challenge for a state that is not only young but, 38 years after a Greek-triggered Turkish invasion, divided to boot. For the first time ever an EU aspirant – Turkey – does not even recognise the country now heading the bloc. Since 1974, some 35,000 Turkish troops have been stationed in the pariah state of northern Cyprus, which is bankrolled by Ankara.
But for Christofias, the role of EU council president may well be a respite from a term in office that has also been plagued by misfortune. “Outside his own diehard supporters he no longer has any credibility,” said Hubert Faustmann, who teaches political science at the University of Nicosia. “There is huge disaffection with his government