If the European Union had gone searching for a symbol of the rich diversity of its make-up, it could not have found a better example than Cyprus. Oriental antiquity overlain with Roman, Byzantine, French, Venetian, Ottoman and British influencesa

Now history has thrust the island into new and urgent prominence. The next couple of weeks will offer a critical test of the EU dream of a new Europe.

The upcoming referendums among the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities will determine whether or not a united Cyprus joins the EU on May 1.

If voters accept the EU-backed UN peace plan, a new future can begin for Cyprus, after its long years of conflict and tension.

And a successful Cyprus outcome would confirm that the EU, despite all its many current difficulties, can still perform its original and most fundamental function: to forge harmony from dissent.

European Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen this week explicitly alluded to the lesson that a Cyprus agreement would offer in for resolution of other intractable stand-offs in the Eastern Mediterranean.

What will happen, however, if there is a No vote? It will expose one of the harsh realities that has haunted much of the EU enlargement debate: a preference for carefully-nourished utopian...

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