A second Turkish drillship arrived in disputed waters off Cyprus last month to begin gas exploration. The boat, Yavuz, takes its name – like Istanbul’s new, third bridge over the Bosphorus – from the Ottoman sultan ‘Yavuz’ Selim I, who suppressed minority unrest in 16th-century Anatolia. The nickname translates as ‘resolute’ or ‘grim’.
Years ago, in the early days of the financial crisis, Cyprus was one of the first European countries to reassure bank savers of relatively modest means by guaranteeing their deposits up to a limit of €100,000. What this meant was that the government made a promise. Anything could happen to a bank. It could go bankrupt. Branches could crumble into lumps of concrete and shards of glass, servers explode in showers of sparks, cashiers and mortgage consultants plunge flaming from fourth-floor windows, and small savers would still get their money back.
The European Coal and Steel Community and the other elements from which the EU springs were explicitly intended to make war between France and Germany ‘not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible’. That aim has been achieved, though America and Nato also played their part. But what contribution has the EU made to peacemaking elsewhere? I restrict my thoughts here to three conflicts in which I have been personally involved as a diplomat: Palestine, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.
The day before leaving for Cyprus, I read an excellent account of the sinister weather conditions of 1783, which Benjamin Franklin surmised were the result of recent volcanic activity in Iceland. I’m writing a book about Vesuvius and this was by way of light research. I was about to leave Nicosia for home when Eyjafjallajökull erupted.