United in Disloyalty

BY VAHAKEN MOURADIAN (Op-Ed Contributor)             

A supra-national identity has failed to take root among the citizens of the European Union’s member states, despite the inspired efforts of the project’s past and present champions. The departure of the British and the recent surge of parochialist parties across the continent should suffice to re-focus even an obtuse observer’s attention on this fact. And this should come as no surprise. Perhaps the most obvious characteristic of a community is that those within recognize certain special obligations to one another that they do not owe to those without.[1] Indeed, members of a community tend to share common—albeit usually emergent and internally disputed—attitudes towards members of other groups.[2] This is fundamentally requisite for developing and enacting foreign policy (the concept would make little sense otherwise); and sovereignty is rightfully measured by the extent to which a political community is free to design its own.

The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon was both prescient and paradoxical. On the first charge: by conferring upon member states the ability to activate Article 50, the Amato Group diminished the already minuscule potential of the EU to develop into a community by affirming its status as a multilateral contractual association. Allow me to explain. A social or political community is an organic and historical artifact.[3] It develops through an intergenerational process of sharing unique experiences between those smaller units who eventually become its constituents;[4] joining or repudiating the community cannot be matters of whim nor subject to short-term decision-making by any single subgroup or individual.[5] The introduction of an institutional avenue for divorce—whether or not any member resorts to it—confirms the EU as merely an extended transactional agreement. Are historical ties between the island and the continent severed via referendum? If not, then will not the United Kingdom continue to be part of the community, and not of the Union? The natural inference would be that the community and the Union are unalike and distinct. I suspect that ‘Brexit’, if implemented as clumsily as it was christened, will starkly reveal that EU institutions do not reflect the types of relationships European states in fact share. On the second charge, that of paradox: the Treaty instituted, simultaneously with the exit provision, the office of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The introduction of an unequivocally transactional element was thus coupled with the aspiration to consolidate foreign policy– a most ambitious step towards community-building. Presented with the former, how is one supposed to take the latter seriously?

But the pitfall is deeper. One should expect that the very first collective, European attempt at foreign and security policy would be, for instance, to painfully reprobate an actor who has illegally invaded a member state of the Union and has repeatedly violated the European Convention on Human Rights with regard to the citizens of that state the territory of which she continues to occupy.[6] Neither Cypriot representatives to the Union nor any of their colleagues have made substantive progress in this direction.[7] The likely termination of Turkey’s accession process (about which, I am sure, the keen reader is already thinking) will simply not do. The multitude of reasons why this process could have, and now tentatively has, been halted is pre-existing: not least of these is Article 301 of the Turkish constitution, by which the academic consensus regarding the now-102-year-old Armenian Genocide continues to be silenced.[8] The case of Cyprus ought to have precluded the accession’s very initiation. Yet it did not. The Cyprus Problem rather is, it seems, just one more inconvenient obstacle to it. During the Cypriot presidency of the European Council for the second half of 2012, the European Commission launched a “positive agenda” to circumnavigate Cypriot objections and deepen relations with Turkey until the end of the year, when the island-nation’s term of irksome influence over Union policy would expire and Turkish accession negotiations could resume.[9] This reflects neither solidarity nor cohesion. A community should have resisted steadfastly to the Commission’s open act of disregard, disrespect, and disloyalty towards one if its members.

Let us avoid misunderstanding. I do not claim that a state is morally, let alone legally, obligated to identify its interest with that of another, and certainly not indefinitely even if it does. But, if EU members are indeed indifferent to one another except in matters that impact their narrowly (that is not to say narrow-mindedly) conceived national interest, they ought to acknowledge the fact. For instance, Germany and Greece would benefit by openly recognizing that any coincidence of their economic interests is limited (as reactions to and remedies for the financial crisis of 2008, for example, the impacts of which still scourge Athens, demonstrate). The pretense of community is obfuscating if these states design and conduct domestic and foreign policy with mutual regard; it is farcical if this relationship only applies unilaterally.

The Union did not hesitate in the least to apply substantial pressure on Russia for the invasion of Crimea (and Ukraine is not even a member state). Despite the related commercial cost, the Council levied the first sanctions just four months after the event.[10] Conversely, Turkey is not only EU sanction-free while flaunting her flag on the southern slope of the Kyrenian mountain-range, she instead enjoys a customs union with Europe (to which, naturally, Cyprus is not party). In fact, the European Commission declared its eagerness to update this agreement almost concurrently with the European Parliament’s vote to freeze the Turkish accession process.[11] This suspension was not due to the ongoing occupation of Cyprus, of course, but rather a response to Erdogan’s retaliatory bout of mass incarceration after the July 2016 coup attempt.[12] Either Turkey is fit to join the Union or she is not; either Cyprus deserves the same solidarity as that exhibited towards Ukraine or she does not. This dissonance in policy ought to be unacceptable to one who wishes to identify as a citizen of the Union, and it is certainly unbecoming for an entity which claims to be a community. Economic sanctions against Turkey—akin to those inflicted upon Russia, let alone any other diplomatic opprobrium—for her ghastly policies in Cyprus are now fifteen years overdue. A common European foreign and security policy cannot begin to appear credible without them.

Less than a month ago, incidentally, Ankara announced that the survey vessel Barbaros[13]—a name that may doubly serve as a metonym for her port of origin—will conduct fresh research off the coast of Cyprus.[14] This is meant as admonishment for the island’s insolence in daring to explore and exploit her own exclusive economic zone. At least Turkey, for her part, does not desist from offering opportunities for the Union to act.

The question of membership—who belongs to the community and who does not—is the paramount political issue.[15] The EU has so far failed to offer a clear and satisfactory answer. So long as states retain the power to make foreign policy, nationality will rightfully remain a more politically salient and potent identity than any other that ostensibly transcends it. To seek an approach towards out-groups first requires identifying the ‘other’. To design this approach requires identifying the in-group and its best interest. A community’s identity and its foreign policy are therefore mutually-constitutive: the former steers the latter’s course and is reaffirmed by the latter’s enactment (and the two evolve in tandem). Absent both, the likelihood of the EU developing into a true political community is negligible.


[1] For an elaboration of this truism, see David Miller, On Nationality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 59-64.

[2] This is part of a community’s internal, healthy “continuity of conflict” by which common norms and attitudes develop, described beautifully in Alasdair McIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 222.

[3] For an early rendition of this view of society, see Aristotle, Introduction to Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Random House, 1947), 556-557.

[4] Co-citizens, for instance, develop ‘historical qualities’. See Thomas Hurka, “The Justification of National Partiality,” The Morality of Nationalism, ed. Robert McKim and Jeff McMahan, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 150.

[5] For a view of decision-making on matters of group identity and culture, see Miller, On Nationality, 69-70.

[6] For a taste of the tens of such violations recorded over the past decades, see Anthony Lott, “Cyprus v. Turkey: Just Satisfaction and Acts of Aggression”, American Society of International Law, August 27, 2014, https://www.asil.org/insights/volume/18/issue/18/cyprus-v-turkey-just-satisfaction-and-acts-aggression.

[7] MEP Eleni Theocharous has at least raised a question regarding a recent incident involving a Turkish military exercise off the island’s coast and within Cypriot EEZ. See Eleni Theocharous, “Request for sanctions against Turkey for conducting exercises with live ammunition 28 km from the coast of Paphos”, European Parliament, March 10, 2017, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=WQ&reference=P-2017-001657&format=XML&language=EN.

[8] For a notable incident, see Jonny Dymond, “EU Blasts Turkish Author’s Trial”, BBC News, September 13, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4243102.stm.

[9] Vincent Morelli, European Union Enlargement: A Status Report on Turkey’s Accession Negotiations (CRS Report No. RS22517) (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2013), 10-12.

[10] European Union Newsroom, “EU Sanctions Against Russia over Ukraine Crisis”, updated April 19, 2017, https://europa.eu/newsroom/highlights/special-coverage/eu-sanctions-against-russia-over-ukraine-crisis_en.

[11] James Kanter, “European Parliament Votes to Suspend Talks with Turkey on E.U. Membership”, The New York Times, 24 November, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/24/world/europe/european-parliament-turkey-eu-membership.html.

[12] European Commission, “Commission Proposes to Modernise the Customs Union with Turkey”, December 21, 2016, http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1609.

[13] The vessel is the namesake of the famed Ottoman admiral Khidr, or Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha. He died twenty-five years before the Battle of Lepanto, waged over Cyprus, in which the Holy League defeated the Ottoman Empire. Nonetheless, as part of a peace settlement two years later, Venice ceded the island to the defeated. See Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Barbarossa” and “Battle of Lepanto”, accessed May 11, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Barbarossa; https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Lepanto.

[14] Η Καθημερινή, «Στην Κύπρο από αύριο το Μπαρμπαρός», April 20, 2017, http://www.kathimerini.com.cy/gr/politiki/stin-kypro-apo-ayrio-to-mparmparos.

[15] And often subtly permeates policy discourse. This is most pronounced in the resurgent immigration debate in Europe and the United States. See Deborah Stone, Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making, 3rd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012), 20.

Image source: Jean Gouders, Cartoon Movement, March 18, 2014.

About the Author 

Vahaken Mouradian is Sié Fellow and MA candidate at Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ERA Institute.

This article is produced by the Eurasian Research and Analysis Institute, Inc. (ERA Institute), a public, 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution devoted to studying Eurasian affairs. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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