In 2014, 92,000 Turkish Cypriots were eligible to vote in the 2014 Republic of Cyprus parliamentary election. This means that there are at least 92,000 EU citizens residing in northern Cyprus. If you count the children, there are even more. Inferring from the 2011 Turkish Cypriot census, I concluded there were just over around 136,000 people of (only) Turkish Cypriot origin in northern Cyprus in that year.
The death of negotiations to solve the Cyprus problem, in particular declarations by Turkey that there is no point in pursuing ‘the UN parameters’, leaves these EU citizens vulnerable. There are already calls from some Greek Cypriot quarters to abandon all EU technical and financial assistance, since the Republic of Cyprus has only assented to it on the basis that it is “with a view to reunification”.
That would be a mistake. In the last phase of the negotiations, the EU institutions, the World Bank and the IMF expended considerable efforts getting to know the economy of northern Cyprus and assessing everything that needed to be done to close the gap in standards, regulations and so on between the eurozone south and the north.
The work to close that gap should not be abandoned, for three reasons.
First, every year that passes widens the gap between the economy in the south, which has gone through the painful discipline of a financial crisis, and the north, where balancing budgets is always a task for ‘tomorrow’. If there is any shred of hope that negotiations might be revived, then the closer the Turkish Cypriot economy is to eurozone standards, the lower the Greek Cypriots’ concerns will be about the impact of a settlement on the economy.
Second, we all live on the same island. The tap water runs through the same soil and we all swim in the same sea. Environmental pollution affects all of us. It is therefore in everyone’s interests that environmental standards are high.
Third, as noted above, the EU has a duty of care to its citizens. It should start asking some difficult questions about the rights of those citizens.
It should ask why a Filipina spouse of a Cypriot national can gain citizenship, but a Turkish one cannot.
It should ask how blocking access to telecommunications is compatible with the EU’s telecommunications strategy.
It should be asking similar questions about education and science. It should be taking a close look at history education in schools and asking if is compatible with fundamental EU principles and values.
It should expand the Green Line regulation to include any product that meets EU standards, which by definition will improve competitiveness in northern Cyprus.
The EU member states know that if they do this they will be subject to a lot of tantrums. But unless they want to deal with the even bigger headache of a hard border with Turkey along the Green Line, they need to face down the critics and do everything legally possible to keep the European path open for their vulnerable citizens in northern Cyprus.
By Fiona Mullen, Director, Sapienta Economics Ltd