Parliament ratified treaty – major governing party opposed

The rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by the Irish people was widely, if rather cautiously, perceived by the Cypriots as a serious setback in the efforts for a stronger, more democratic European Union. Upon hearing of the Irish ‘No’ vote, the Cypriot government suggested that it favoured a collective handling of the matter by the EU-27 in order to achieve an acceptable outcome. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Markos Kyprianou, stated that the application of the treaty was already being discussed in the EU, but added that the possibility for Ireland to opt-out of the treaty was not real, since the treaty determines vital aspects of the Union’s operation, such as the mandate for the President of the European Council.[1] The Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs noted that, henceforth, either Ireland will need to repeat the vote or the EU should examine other ways in which to operate.
Before his departure for Brussels for the discussion of the Lisbon Treaty – following its rejection by Ireland – in the framework of the two-day European Council, President Demetris Christofias (who is regarded as mildly eurosceptic) stated that the interests of the people and the EU itself should be at the centre of any decision taken among the EU-27 heads of state and government.[2] He added that the Lisbon Treaty, in the view of the Irish and a lot of people in the EU, does not differ from the already rejected Constitutional Treaty. The Cypriot President expressed the hope that the EU-27 will not agree on a certain reflection period during which calculations will take place in an attempt to ratify the Treaty without any changes whatsoever. In Brussels, Cypriot President Christofias conveyed to his EU counterparts what he described as Nicosia’s ‘positions of principle’ regarding the need to respect the people’s will as expressed in referenda. He also compared the Irish referendum to the notorious one in Cyprus, concerning the so-called “Annan Plan”, in 2004.[3] President Christofias then argued that Ireland should not be pressured to accept a treaty rejected by the majority of its people.
Demetris Christofias, who leads ‘radical-left’ party AKEL, pledged to promote the continuation of the ratification process in Cyprus. He was thus fulfilling his promise to honour his predecessor’s signature to the treaty and his commitment to the Cypriot people, despite his own party’s reservations vis-à-vis the treaty.[4] 
Debate whether to ratify or not
The Cypriot political parties, which were called to ratify the Lisbon Treaty at the “House of Representatives” in July, expressed various views after the June Irish ‘No’. Senior coalition-party, AKEL, supported the examination of the situation in a calm manner, to be followed by a decision on the way to proceed. Simultaneously, in accordance with the government’s reported position, it had left open the possibility of postponing the ratification of the treaty.[5] By the end of June, AKEL’s central committee decided unanimously to vote against the Lisbon Treaty during the plenary session of the Cypriot “House of Representatives”. AKEL maintained that the treaty’s content is not in the best interests of the people of Europe, particularly of the workers.[6]
AKEL’s decision was largely criticised by the overwhelming majority of the Cypriot political parties (Democratic Rally, DISY; Democratic Party, DIKO; Social-Democrat, EDEK; and European Party EUROKO). Two of them – DIKO and EDEK – participate with AKEL in the Cypriot coalition government.
The ‘centre-right’ main opposition party DISY, which upon the rejection of the treaty by Ireland, suggested that Cyprus should move fast to reap the political benefits of being the first country – after the Irish ‘No’ – to ratify the treaty, expressed its disappointment. DISY claimed that AKEL was siding with marginal forces within the EU and demonstrating its euroscepticism anew.[7] DISY’s leader, Nikos Anastasiades, in criticising AKEL, argued that eurosceptic tendencies should not block the progressive powers which want to chart new paths for Cyprus. An announcement released by DISY, projecting its positions on the Lisbon Treaty, emphasized inter alia that Cyprus must follow the path outlined by the majority of member states which want the EU to go forward by rejecting euroscepticism.[8]
Government coalition parties DIKO and EDEK were also among the strongest supporters of the Lisbon Treaty. The ‘centrist’ Democratic Party, DIKO, also commented on left-wing AKEL’s decision to vote against the Lisbon Treaty. DIKO issued a statement suggesting that while every party is, of course, entitled to its positions, it should not by the same token jeopardize the best interests of the Cypriot people.[9] Social-Democratic EDEK, through its leader, Yiannakis Omirou, advocated that the decision by AKEL is mistaken: for despite its shortcomings, the Lisbon Treaty is better than the Treaty of Nice and its ratification is in the best interest of Cyprus.[10] Omirou noted that the non-ratification of the treaty by all member states could lead to paralysis and even the collapse of the EU.
European Party, EUROKO, invited AKEL to inform the Cypriots on the precise points on which it disagrees with the treaty as well as to suggest a method for the negotiation of changes to the treaty.[11] During a live television discussion, EUROKO’s leader, Demetris Syllouris, advocated that AKEL, as the principal governing party, was obliged to avoid decisions that could damage Cyprus’ international image and jeopardize its standing in the European Union.[12]
For its part, the Cypriot Green Party decided to abstain during the vote in the “House of Representatives”, in order to protest against the ‘procedures’ being followed vis-à-vis the promotion of the treaty.[13] The party’s leader, Giorgos Perdikis, explained that the Cypriot Greens favour a strong, democratic Europe and a stronger European voice, particularly concerning the growing global food and economic crises. Perdikis reiterated anew his proposal for a Cypriot referendum for the ratification of the treaty.[14]
The Reform Treaty was ratified by the Cypriot “House of Representatives”, following a day-long session, on 3 July 2008: 37 votes were in favour, 17 against, with one abstention. In favour of the treaty were, as announced beforehand, the DISY (18) votes, the DIKO (11) votes, the five votes by EDEK and the three EUROKO votes. The only party opposed to the treaty was AKEL (17 votes), while the Green Party (one vote) abstained. 
Ratification sends a positive message to Europe
More generally, the parties which voted in favour of the Lisbon Treaty, in speeches delivered by their MPs and party leaders during the parliamentary session, stressed that the treaty, despite its weaknesses, is the way for the EU to move forward and unify Europe, strengthen the role of Cyprus within the EU, strengthen the powers of the European Parliament and national parliaments, and help the EU gain a stronger voice on the international scene. They criticised the stance held by the head-ruling AKEL party and argued that the treaty will strengthen institutions which can contribute to the security of Cyprus while providing Cyprus with added instruments and means in its efforts for a fair and workable political settlement of the Republic’s problem. Leader of the opposition party DISY, Nicos Anastasiades, also stated that the ratification of the treaty sends a positive message to the rest of Europe, another DISY MP arguing that it was a message of solidarity at a difficult time for the member states following the rejection by Ireland. AKEL MPs, in justifying their opposition, argued that the treaty represents a neo-liberal approach; that European citizens have not been properly informed on the provisions of the treaty; that it in fact weakens smaller EU states like Cyprus; that markets will be completely deregulated thereby hurting consumers; and that NATO would remain the main European defence structure. The leader of AKEL’s parliamentary group, in defence of its party’s position on the Lisbon Treaty, noted that, since President Christofias was elected to office, support for the EU amongst Cypriots rose by 20 percent. The leader of the Green Party reiterated in his speech that his party is not opposed to the EU moving forward; however, he called for a better treaty and for the treaty to be put to a referendum in all EU member states. In any event, most MPs maintained that Cypriots were rather unfamiliar with many provisions of the Lisbon Treaty and that, therefore, more awareness-raising was necessary.
Limited public discussion on Lisbon Treaty
The MPs’ perception that Cypriots are unaware of many Lisbon Treaty provisions was confirmed by a follow-up opinion poll, published by the Nicosia newspaper “Simerini”.[15] According to the poll, eight out of ten Cypriots are very interested in the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty. However, 54 percent of them reported that they do not know any of its provisions while 49 percent admitted they did not know whether its ratification is in the interest of Cyprus. Also, asked how they would have voted if the treaty was put to a referendum, 23 percent said they would have supported it, 22 percent that they would have rejected it, while 51 percent did not answer. The opinion poll was conducted between the 2nd and 3rd of July with a sample of 500 respondents.
Public discussions on the actual content of the Lisbon Treaty and its implications were rather limited in Cyprus. The “European Institute of Cyprus” organised an indicative discussion in the framework of the Celebrations for Europe Day.[16] The particular conference focused on the implications of the Lisbon Treaty for smaller EU member states. Speakers included MEPs Panayiotis Demetriou, Ioannis Kasoulides and Kyriacos Triantaphylides. In fact, Triantaphylides was the only MEP that noted that the Lisbon Treaty is negative for smaller states emphasising the reduction in the number of commissioners. More generally, various participants expressed particular concerns, first, on whether a small country like Cyprus could secure its vital interests by losing its veto right; second, on whether the political elite in the Island-state is well-informed about the structural changes provided in the treaty; and third, on whether these changes will be taken into consideration in the forthcoming negotiation process for the resolution of the Cyprus problem. Nevertheless, Cypriot diplomats conveyed to us that the interests of the smaller EU member states “lie in a strong EU in both its internal and external aspects”[17].

[1] Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcos Kyprianou, 13/06/2008.

[2] Statement by President Demetris Christofias, 18/06/2008.

[3] Statement by President Demetris Christofias, 20/06/2008.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Statements by AKEL MP Andros Kyprianou, 13/09/2008.

[6] Minutes of the meeting of AKEL’s central committee, 23/06/2008.

[7] Statement by the leader of DISY Nicos Anastasiades, 24/06/2008.

[8] Democratic Rally (DISY) statement, 23/06/2008.

[9] Democratic Party (DIKO) statement, 23/06/2008.

[10] Statement by the leader of EDEK Yiannakis Omirou, 23/06/2008.

[11] Statement by the leader of EUROKO Demetris Syllouris, 23/06/2008.

[12] Televised debate at the midday newsfeed of the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation “CyBC”, 24/06/2008.

[13] Minutes of the meeting of the Green Party’s political office, 22/06/2008.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Nicosia daily Simerini: Simerini’s large survey’, 06/07/2008.

[16] Cyprus News Agency, 09/05/2008.

[17] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, late June 2008.