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Why Cyprus will cherish sofagate

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6 mins read

Cyprus has the thankless task of trying to persuade Europe that Turkey is a regional bullyboy which cannot be trusted no matter how important the country strategically.

Nicosia often sounds like the crazed jilted lover with its register of complaints against Turkey, rolled out whenever it gets the chance on the international stage.

European leaders pay lip service to the lofty ideals of the 27-member bloc being like Musketeers “all for one and one for all”.

But in practice, it doesn’t work like that; diplomacy is a complex system of lies, deceit and insincerity disguised in the uniform of power politics or being polite to the neighbours.

Turkey doesn’t do polite, which is part of the problem.

In the past, Cyprus’ overt anti-Turk bashing has been rather crude and misjudged like a dirty joke at a funeral.

Indeed, it has refined the rhetoric in understanding that to be taken seriously, it has to offer something in return to arouse the big hitters from their slumber.

Nicosia realised for it to be acknowledged, it had to join the member’s club, wear a proper suit to be accepted among the cigar-smoking regulars rather than work in the kitchen waiting to serve dinner.

Joining the European Union was a political gambit Cyprus took to be shielded by a diplomatic umbrella that would buffer Turkish aggression.

Although earning a higher credit score, joining the bloc did not bring about the much-touted European solution for the divided island.

Instead, Cyprus was burdened with a harsh bailout agreement after its casino banks gambled at the roulette table with freshly printed euros borrowed from the Germans.

Berlin wasn’t going to let tiny Cyprus bring down the eurozone after letting their gambling buddies Greece off the hook.

Despite being perennial risk-takers, Cypriots are nothing but industrious.

If destroying the island during the Cold War and ruining European finances wasn’t enough, Cypriots decided to go into the energy business.

What could go wrong?

Like they say, if you can’t be famous, talented, or liked, at least be rich.

The international community might have ignored Cyprus in the past but sitting on a natural gas bonanza worth billions makes people respond to your dinner invitations.

Make enough noise with regional powers, sign a few pipeline deals and suddenly the Americans are letting you through the door for hot dogs on the 4 July.

That’s not all; the French deployed an aircraft carrier to say hello, the Israeli’s sent their vaccinated tourists, and the Egyptians said, “give me all the energy you got”.

Once building a reputation on something more substantial than conspiracy theories, Cyprus bought a new tuxedo for EU Council meetings.

It got Turkey back on the agenda, with the Europeans extolling the virtues of Cyprus sovereignty and energy rights.

Turkey overplayed its hand in the Eastern Mediterranean, sending warships into Cypriot and Greek waters, causing a stir for no visible reason.

Ankara was stamping its authority in the region, but this time Cyprus made sure it had an open line of communication to the power brokers.

It wasn’t going to run home crying after the bad man kicked sand in its face.

The government left nothing to chance; it had done the hard yards of walking the European capitals networking over drinks at the bar and late-night handshakes.

Granted, Europe needs Turkey; it will never shut the door on cooperation for fear of another migrant wave.

Nevertheless, Cyprus is no longer told to go and play with the children while the grownups talk.

If Brussels needed an illustration of what Cyprus has had to deal with, it got more than a fleeting glimpse when EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was left standing like a prize dummy while the men sat for a serious chat.

There could be no clearer sign of how Turkey treats women than when von der Leyen was left without a chair as her EU equal Charles Michel (EU Council President) and Turkish President Erdogan cast her adrift.

Although brushed aside as a diplomatic howler of embarrassing proportions, it served as a symbol of how Cyprus is treated by Ankara – which – like von der Leyen – it does not recognise.

Von der Leyen could be heard saying “Uhm…” as her hand came out as the two men took the only two available chairs in sofagate.

At Turkey’s presidential palace, she sought refuge propped up by cushions on a side sofa several feet away and lower than the two men.

While Turkish diplomats were cringing as the world looked on aghast, the gleeful rubbing of hands could be heard from the Foreign Ministry in Nicosia, hoping this would be a gift that keeps on giving.