By rejecting an EU bailout and turning to Russia for help, Cyprus is exposing growing frustration and dwindling solidarity within a bloc that was meant to bring the continent closer together after World War II.
The chaos over the rescue plan, which the Cypriot parliament roundly rejected Tuesday, has renewed many of doubts about the legitimacy of the European project — notably over perceived German dominance and threats to national sovereignty. The extraordinary spectacle of an EU member seeking salvation from the old Cold War enemy has raised deep questions about how far Europe can and will go to take care of its own.
"I think there is a clear danger of Cyprus being rescued by Russia and the eurozone being seen as less relevant, unable to rescue Cyprus," said Vassilis Monastiriotis, an expert on southeastern Europe at the London School of Economics.
"It will raise many issues about the legitimacy of the European Union," he said. "Countries may seek financial help from China or Arab states and this may disintegrate the European Union, making it less relevant as an institution."
Ever since the financial crisis five years ago put pressure on heavily indebted countries — from Greece to Portugal to Ireland — the bailouts have become as much a political as an economic issue, with wealthy Germany taking on the role of bogeyman because of its insistence on strict austerity measures as a condition for help. Cyprus' proposed bailout ratcheted up the potential pain by demanding for the first time that depositors help pay for the rescue with their own savings.
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