Author: University of Aveiro
Europe, once considered a continent of unity and cooperation, has found itself grappling with several simmering conflicts in recent years. The ongoing disputes between Cyprus and Turkey, the now reissued Israel-Palestine conflict as well as the 2021 brought-forward war between Ukraine and Russia, have not only created regional tensions but also have the potential to exacerbate divisions within Europe. In this article, we will explore how these conflicts are impacting the continent and potentially fueling the rise of populism.
The Cyprus-Turkey conflict is a longstanding dispute over the divided island of Cyprus. Turkey’s military presence in Northern Cyprus and ongoing disputes over resources in the Eastern Mediterranean have strained relations between Turkey and EU member states, particularly Greece and Cyprus.
The Cyprus-Turkey conflict is a long-standing issue that dates to the mid-20th century. The roots of the conflict lie in the complex history of Cyprus and the struggle between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities for power, influence, and autonomy on the island.
Cyprus was a British colony from 1878 until 1960. In 1960, Cyprus gained independence as a republic. The constitution included power-sharing arrangements between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. However, these arrangements quickly faltered due to disputes and mistrust between the two communities, leading to intercommunal violence. In 1963, President Archbishop Makarios proposed constitutional amendments that largely favored the Greek Cypriots, which were rejected by the Turkish Cypriots, prompting the withdrawal of Turkish Cypriot officials from the government.
In 1974, the situation escalated further when a military junta in Greece backed a coup on Cyprus, aiming to unite the island with Greece. In response, Turkey invaded Cyprus, citing its right to intervene under the Treaty of Guarantee, a treaty that allowed Greece, Turkey, and Britain to intervene in Cyprus to maintain its independence and territorial integrity. The Turkish military operation resulted in the de facto division of the island. After the invasion, Turkish forces established control over the northern part of the island.
As October 2023, Cyprus remains divided, with the Republic of Cyprus controlling the southern two-thirds of the island and the self-declared TRNC in the north. Efforts for a peaceful resolution, reunification, and finding a common ground continue, but the conflict remains unresolved, impacting the political, social, and economic landscape of the island.
The Cyprus-Turkey conflict is a complex issue deeply embedded in the island’s history and the aspirations of its two main ethnic communities, and its resolution remains a challenge despite numerous attempts at mediation and reconciliation.
Thishas led to the militarization of the Eastern Mediterranean, causing significant concerns within the European Union. The EU has imposed sanctions on Turkey in response to its actions, which further complicate diplomatic efforts. The division of Cyprus has had severe social and economic consequences for the island. The Greek Cypriot-controlled Republic of Cyprus is a member of the European Union, while the northern part remains outside the EU. This division hampers economic development and complicates issues like property rights and citizenship.
Populist movements in countries like Greece and Cyprus often rally around the issue of defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Cyprus-Turkey conflict provides these movements with a potent tool to galvanize support and advocate for a tough stance against Turkey. This can lead to further division within the EU, as some countries demand stronger actions against Turkey, while others advocate for a more diplomatic approach.
The divergent interests and positions of EU member states in response to the Cyprus-Turkey conflict have the potential to undermine the European Union’s ability to maintain a unified foreign policy. In critical matters such as dealing with Turkey, the EU seeks to present a united front, but the differing priorities of its members can complicate these efforts.
The Ukraine-Russia conflict is one of the most significant geopolitical disputes in Europe. It began in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, sparking a war in Eastern Ukraine. The conflict has since claimed thousands of lives, displaced millions of people, and remains a source of instability in the region. The Ukraine-Russia conflict has strained relations between Russia and Western countries, particularly the European Union and the United States. Sanctions, military deployments, and diplomatic tensions have become the new norm. This not only divides Europe but also fosters a sense of insecurity among neighboring countries, leading to increased defense spending and military activities.
Populist movements often thrive on nationalist sentiment and anti-immigration rhetoric. The Ukraine-Russia conflict has allowed populist leaders in some European countries to exploit the situation by promoting a strongman image and advocating for tougher stances on Russia. This can lead to further division within the European Union, with some countries adopting a more isolationist stance.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is a long-standing and deeply rooted dispute over land and self-determination. While not located in Europe, the conflict’s impact is felt within the European continent due to the involvement of the European Union and its member states. This conflict often leads to protests, tensions, and debates within European countries. The EU has traditionally supported a two-state solution and has been critical of certain Israeli policies, creating diplomatic tensions with Israel. Populist movements in some European countries have taken sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict, aligning themselves with either Israel or Palestine based on their own domestic political interests and ideologies. This can lead to divisions within the EU and disrupt its efforts to maintain a cohesive foreign policy.
The modern conflicts in Europe, including the Ukraine-Russia, Cyprus-Turkey, and Israel-Palestine disputes, have far-reaching implications for the continent. They not only strain diplomatic relations but also provide opportunities for populist movements to exploit nationalist sentiments and create divisions within Europe.
To promote unity and stability, European leaders must work collectively to address these conflicts through diplomatic means, finding peaceful solutions that can help mitigate the divisive influence of populism. Maintaining a strong, united European Union will be essential in navigating these challenging times and ensuring the continent’s long-term stability and prosperity.