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12° Nicosia,
21 April, 2024
 
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A long journey always begins with a small step

Opinion

Opinion

By Elisa Ferreira

The many crises the EU has been facing recently should not let us forget the ongoing pain caused by the open wound of Cyprus’ division. Next year will mark 50 years that the island remains de facto divided. Half a century. There are now more Cypriot citizens that have lived under division than under a unified Cyprus. If we do not want more generations that have no memory of a unified island, negotiations need to resume between the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. These should aim at a comprehensive settlement leading to reunification and the establishment of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation in which the communities enjoy political equality, in line with the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.

However, until a solution is reached, much can already be done to create the conditions for a resumption of talks, to nurture the prospect of a reunified Cyprus, and to improve the living conditions, for both communities. The whole of Cyprus is EU territory. Turkish Cypriots are EU citizens. This is why, upon Cyprus’ accession, the EU adopted two important laws - the Aid Programme for the Turkish Cypriot community and the Green Line Regulation - to facilitate the reunification of Cyprus within the UN framework.

The Aid Programme for the Turkish Cypriot community encourages the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community, with a particular emphasis on the economic integration of the island, on improving contacts between the two communities and with the EU, and on preparation for the EU body of laws. All projects financed through the Programme have a reunification angle. Our support has enabled the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, the Committee on Missing Persons, and other bi-communal technical committees to do their important work. It has also allowed joint scholarships for Cypriot students, financing studies and internships for more than 2,000 students, bringing the Turkish Cypriot youth closer to the EU. The program has supported civil society organizations, SMEs, and farmers, and built infrastructure, to prevent the Turkish Cypriot community falls behind and that reunification becomes more difficult. It is therefore crucial that bi-communal projects are followed through in a spirit of mutual trust and that commitments taken towards the functioning of such projects are honored and implemented.

The EU Greehonoredegulation of 2004 allowed Turkish Cypriot businesses to start trading their products across the Green Line. Since then, Cypriots have crossed the Green Line more than 33 million times, and goods worth over EUR 90 million have been traded. This trade has increased over time, setting a new record in 2022 with a value of EUR 14.6 million.

This increase in trade is more than welcome, as it fosters integration and economic development and helps build confidence between the two communities. I, therefore, see great value in the recent decisions by the Cypriot authorities to admit several new products to the Green Line trade, from olive oil and fruit juices to packaging materials. This trend should continue – for the benefit of both communities.

As part of our practical support, we are preparing, together with the Chambers of Commerce of both communities, the creation of a one-stop shop to advise companies on everything they need to know to trade. The information will explain how to find trading partners and how to comply with the applicable EU legislation. This last point is essential since all products crossing the Gren Line must comply with EU standards.

Trading with one another and regular human interaction between the two communities should become an everyday practice for businesses and people throughout the island. Trade creates momentum for further steps towards tactical reunification – such as an intra-island payment system, that could replace the current system of cash or complicated and expensive transfers via intermediary banks.

One very concrete opportunity to increase Green Line trade and bring the two communities closer together is offered by Halloumi/Hellim. There is a growing demand for this quality product in the EU. In 2021, Cyprus sold Halloumi worth EUR 263 million to over 50 countries inside and outside the EU, which was 30% more than in 2016. Sales to EU countries alone were around EUR 100 million. The European Commission recognized the importance of this iconic Cypriot product, by registering it in 2021 as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). As a result, only Halloumi/Hellim produced in Cyprus, following the traditional recipe, can now be marketed in the European Union. Fifty-eight Greek Cypriot producers have already qualified for the PDO label. And in March and May this year, the first two Turkish Cypriot producers qualified for the PDO label.

In parallel, the Commission has adopted a Decision that will allow Turkish Cypriot producers to trade PDO-compliant Halloumi/Hellim across the Green Line. This, of course, is entirely dependent on the Turkish Cypriot producers reaching EU food safety and animal health standards. Significant support amounting to EUR 40 million has been earmarked to this effect from the EU Aid Programme in the 2021-2024 period. The aim is to ensure that producers from both communities can benefit from the economic opportunities.

In a way, the Halloumi/Hellim package is a positive precedent, testing on a small scale an approach that could be replicated and scaled up. And it is an opportunity to showcase the economic benefits of full EU membership.

This is just one of many projects supported by the EU Aid Programme for the Turkish Cypriot community. Through this program, the EU has invested close to EUR 700 million with the overarching goal of smoothing the path to reunification. But this cannot be steered only from the outside: Cypriots in both communities must be the drivers of this process, finding ways to build trust, relationships, and joint solutions. And we in the European Commission will continue to support you, every step of the way.

Elisa Ferreira is a commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms.

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Cyprus  |  EU  |  crisis  |  journey  |  economy

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