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30 May, 2024
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Gasoline trade in divided Cyprus

Customs inspections and misunderstandings surrounding rules

George Kakouris

George Kakouris

The issue of gasoline from the occupied territories is one of the most well-known psychodramas of Cyprus. It distorts the market due to the country's division and the occupation of part of it by another country. This situation is recycled and resurfaced without ever being clarified. It remains unclear because, although successive governments know that the effects on gas station owners in the south cannot be definitively addressed before reunification, as no law or regulation prohibits the purchase of fuel in the north for personal use, they allow public discussion to degenerate into a toxic mix of moralizing, patriotism, vested interests, and irritation.

Gas station owners demand that the state protect their businesses, partially justified, without admitting that the situation worsens due to known practices of profiteering. Consumers are torn between the practical need to reduce their expenses (especially given the current economic situation) and the guilty syndrome of "the cheap mistress wandering in the occupied areas."

In the most recent cycle of the drama, instead of focusing strictly on those who illegally (according to the Green Line Regulation) purchase quantities of fuel at low prices for resale inaccessible areas, the state promoted inspections by the Customs Department on fuel indicators at checkpoints, imposing fines as well. They are adding fuel to the fire (to transition from references to Pantelidis to references to Marina Satti).

Shortly after, the Commission, through official and unofficial statements, reminded everyone of what is clear: the market for goods, including fuel, is not subject to taxes and duties, meaning it is not subject to fines as long as they are part of personal luggage and their total value does not exceed €260 per person.

In fact, as a result of the fiasco, citizens learned something they didn't know: that they can not only fill up their cars but also transport fuel in tanks with a capacity of up to 10 liters for personal use.

With a convoluted announcement, the Customs Department attempted to save face by playing with words. They wrote that fuel is not transported in personal luggage. Still, they added that the exemption from inspections for fuel in fuel tanks and portable containers applies if the purchase does not have commercial character. They did not explain exactly what the Customs Department was inspecting when checking fuel indicators and whether the practice was the result of a central order or the excessive zeal of the police.

Since then, commentators on social media have confused the issues (according to the usage of Standard Modern Greek), confusing the rest of us (as understood in the Cypriot dialect), insinuating that gasoline from the occupied areas should be checked for compliance with environmental criteria.

However, this is the responsibility of the Cypriot state, not the drivers. Furthermore, since the Cypriot state cannot control it due to the unique situation and is concerned, it can find channels of communication with the Turkish Cypriot authorities within or outside the checkpoints (there are, for example, the Technical Committees) or confirm if the Commission, through the assistance program to the Turkish Cypriot community, is helping to ensure that the gasoline used in the occupied areas meets the prescribed standards.

On June 27, before the inspections on fuel indicators of drivers began, which were found to be not permitted under the Green Line Regulation, President Christodoulides stated that "relevant instructions have been given to carry out all those inspections that are always conducted within the framework of the regulation and what is allowed through the Green Line Regulation."

After the chaos and the statements from the Commission, the President of Cyprus declared on July 10 that the position of the European Commission "fully agrees with us," urging everyone to read it. He did not explain if by "everyone" he meant the Customs Department or whoever gave the order or implemented the practice of inspecting the fuel indicators, nor if he was aware of this practice.

He clarified, however, that the problem lies in the market for commercial purposes, which would have been good to clarify from the beginning, without any ifs or buts. And without needing reminders from Brussels about their rules, which we agreed to.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  fuel  |  economy  |  government

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