A Historical and Political Review: The Challenges and Successes of Malta and Cyprus in Their Path towards Membership of the Commonwealth and the European Union
- Journal of Mediterranean Studies
- Mediterranean Institute, University of Malta
- Volume 24, Number 1, 2015
- pp. 105-121
- Additional Information
The United Kingdom aside, Cyprus and Malta are the only two states that are members of both the Commonwealth and the European Union. The respective accession processes to the two organisations differed significantly, particularly in the historical and political context of each country.
From the late 1950s to the early 1960s, a lengthy debate took place in the Commonwealth on whether to impose a minimum territorial size and population requirement for membership. The Commonwealth was then undergoing major changes as the decolonisation process made steady advances and it was foreseen that Cyprus and Malta, with populations of half-million or less, would soon be independent. In 1960, members of the Commonwealth decided not to exclude new members for reason of size. As a result, Cyprus was able to join the Commonwealth in 1961, followed by Malta in 1964. This decision had important historical consequences, which would change the profile of the Commonwealth, and today almost two thirds of the Commonwealth’s members are classified as ‘small states’.
The negotiations towards Cyprus and Malta’s accession to the European Union posed substantial political difficulties, specifically regarding Cyprus. The conflict between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, which has led to the division of the island, was a key issue throughout the entire accession process, and, a lasting agreement has yet to be found. In fact, many EU member states would have preferred the island to join the European Union after a settlement of the ‘Cyprus problem’ had been reached. In Malta’s case, the crux of the problem lay with the existence of strong Eurosceptic currents, which had existed since the country first applied for EU Membership in 1990. In addition, there were fears that Malta’s status as a neutral country, enshrined in the republic’s Constitution, might have an impact on the European Union’s common foreign and security policy and the eventual framing of a common defence policy. However, regardless of the political obstacles, both states joined the EU in 2004.