Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar is taking to task European Union decisions on halloumi/hellim, the island’s famous cheese, saying they favor Greek Cypriots and leave their counterparts in the north at the mercy of inspectors approved by the south.
According to Philenews, Tatar has sent a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to raise objections to the bloc’s handling of the Protected Designation of Origin and Green Line regulations for the traditional cheese.
Halloumi/Hellim registration allows producers anywhere on the divided island to benefit from the PDO status of the iconic Cypriot cheese with a unique texture, folded appearance, and suitability for grilling or pan frying, famous the world over.
The new status went into effect October 1 but a transitional period with special rules for one year applies in the north.
Tatar says Limassol-based Bureau Veritas has not reached out in the north for an agreement with the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce
But the Turkish Cypriot leader was said to have pointed out in his letter that the north could not adapt to the new situation, instead saying it favored Greek Cypriots in the south.
Tatar reportedly told von der Leyen he was concerned and called on her to weigh in on the issue so that farmers in the north would not be left out, pointing to European decisions back in 2004 when the European Council was “determined to put an end to the isolation of Turkish Cypriots.”
Turkish Cypriots have cried foul over the deal which would allow legal exports of halloumi/hellim to a hungry European market only through Republic of Cyprus ports in the south.
Tatar says company in the south has not reached out
But Tatar specifically took issue with the company chosen to carry out the inspections.
Limassol-based Bureau Veritas Cyprus Limited has been tasked by the Republic of Cyprus to conduct PDO inspections throughout Cyprus, with the internationally-accredited inspection body being responsible for ensuring that producers respect the traditional recipe.
But Tatar says Bureau Veritas has not reached out for an agreement with the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce.
Philenews, which noted Bureau Veritas was picked also by the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce, cited sources saying the Greek Cypriot side was open to striking a deal with the north, where some role would be assigned to Turkish Cypriot officials but not as part of an authorized body.
Tatar tells Kathimerini Cyprus "this is a big problem”
But in an interview with Kathimerini Cyprus, the Turkish Cypriot leader said “this is a big problem.”
Tatar told Kathimerini’s Nikos Stelgias that Turkish Cypriot authorities ought to have control over hellim including the right to have a say in the appointment of supervisors.
“We asked for the direct appointment of supervisors from the EU. We were told ‘no, the Republic of Cyprus will appoint them’” Tatar said, adding this was causing “a political problem.”
While Greek Cypriots have recommitted to efforts aimed at reunifying the ethnically-split island based strictly on a bizonal bicommunal federation, Turkish Cypriots are pushing for sovereign equality, with Tatar saying the south is not sincere.
In April, the European Commission adopted a package of two measures regarding the PDO for Χαλλούμι/Halloumi/Hellim, essentially safeguarding their names against imitation and misuse across the EU.
The Commission also adopted a measure allowing the PDO product to cross the Green Line on the divided island, provided that the cheese and milk from which it was made has met all EU animal and public health standards.
Brussels has said the measures were approved in order to help ensure that Turkish Cypriot producers in the north could draw full benefits from the protection.
EU says all objections have been noted
Miriam Garcia Ferrer, European Commission spokesperson for trade and agriculture, said objections had been carefully analyzed before the Commission could share its proposal with member states and move forward.
But local media in the north reported that Turkish Cypriot trade union representatives had walked through the buffer zone to the Ledra Palace checkpoint to hand deliver a letter of objection, something they say it was not possible because the EU official did not come to pick it up.
According to reports, the Turkish Cypriot protesters were not against the PDO but wanted some terms to be modified, especially criteria during a transitional period for producers in the north which started on October 1 and will last an entire year.
Tatar reportedly took issue with the one year transition period.
Philenews reported that the Turkish Cypriot leader in his letter pointed out that “the Greek Cypriot producers already have started reaping benefits from the executive regulation for the halloumi PDO.”