Talking to ordinary people reveals a surprising level of ignorance over what the celebrated “four freedoms” of the European Union actually mean and the rights the Turkish Cypriots are seeking to secure. Admittedly, certain Greek Cypriot politicians and journalists appear to have purposely compounded the prevailing confusion in their struggle to undermine the prospects of reaching a “settlement” that would be acceptable to the population. This article sets out to dispel the smoke surrounding the subject by facilitating a clear understanding of the issues involved.
At the core of the European Union is the concept of a “unified/single” market. In order to have a common market, it is essential to ensure that the system facilitates and protects the free and uninhibited movement of (a) goods, (b) services, (c) labour and (d) capital. The practical implications of the “four freedoms”, as they are called, are far reaching. For example, within the EU, there are no restrictions in the shipment of goods, i.e. moving goods from Limassol to Amsterdam is the same as moving goods from Limassol to Nicosia. This implies common quality standards, a common VAT system, uniform controls etc.
Similar principles apply in the case of services, notably the provision of professional services, such as legal and accounting services, banking and insurance services and including the establishment and maintenance of common quality standards, the harmonisation and mutual recognition of qualifications etc.
In the case of labour, the freedom of movement covers both the right to reside as well as the right to work in any part of the European Union. Similarly, the freedom of movement of capital covers both the right to freely move funds (money) within the European Union as well as the right to invest in any part of the union.
In essence, the EU’s “four freedoms” aim at ensuring that from an economic point of view the European Union works as a single, unified market. Admittedly, certain (mostly temporary or transitional) exceptions to these rules may be permitted under certain circumstances but these remain exceptions, which confirm the rules.
An example of such an exception was the imposition of temporary restrictions on the movement of capital that was temporarily introduced in Cyprus in 2013.
Over the past few months, Greek Cypriot politicians and certain Greek Cypriot media have been cultivating the idea that Turkey is claiming (via the Turkish Cypriots) the “four freedoms” enjoyed by EU citizens for the 80 million people, who hold the Turkish citizenship. Clearly, this is an outrageous claim because such a concession would be tantamount to admitting Turkey overnight as a full member of the EU. In fact, a number of Turkish Cypriot politicians go as far as to suggest that the attempted “distortion” was aiming at undermining the prospects of reaching “a settlement”.
What is believed to be a reliable source on the Turkish Cypriot side has summarised their position on the issue, as follows:
- A number of trading companies established and operating in the northern part of Cyprus currently import goods (of an estimated value of €50 million per annum) from Turkey. The Turkish Cypriot side believes that these traders should be allowed to continue these activities, provided the goods thus imported meet EU quality standards (subject to any overall restrictions imposed by the Commission on Turkish imports into the EU).
- A number of Turkish banks and insurance companies have established themselves and are operating in the northern part of Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriot side believes that these (already established) entities should be allowed to continue their operations, provided that their operations fully comply with the applicable EU standards. It is understood that such entities will be subject to the monitoring and control of the competent EU monitoring authorities.
- The free movement of labour (people) has three dimensions:
- It concerns the people holding Turkish nationality, who have already settled in Cyprus. It has been agreed that their numbers will be restricted in such a way so as to maintain the 4:1 ratio between Greek Cypriots (including Greek nationals who have settled in Cyprus) and Turkish Cypriots (including Turkish nationals who have settled in Cyprus).
- It also concerns Greek Cypriots who may wish to settle in the northern state of federated Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriot side accepts that there should be no restrictions in this right but acquiring voting rights (in the northern state) should be confined, at least for an extended period of time, to a ceiling of 20 per cent. They justify their position on the basis that the absence of such a ceiling would jeopardise the concept of a bicommunal, bizonal federation that has already been agreed upon.
- Finally, the issue concerns those Greek and Turkish nationals, who may choose to settle in Cyprus in the future. The position of the Turkish Cypriot side is that Greece should agree to accept a restriction of the right of Greek nationals to the number of Turkish nationals, who will be allowed (by the federal government) to settle in Cyprus. It is not clear as to whether the Turkish Cypriot side would accept the 4:1 ratio approach but, if pressed, they would probably do so.
Today, there are no restrictions in the free movement of capital between Turkey and the northern part of Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriot side would be willing to accept (by way of derogation) “a ceiling” in this connection, if the Greek Cypriot side considers such a ceiling necessary.
If this is, in fact, the position of the Turkish Cypriot side, I honestly do not find it unreasonable. To the extent that their position is in any way different, they should come out and say so, in unambiguous terms. The people of Cyprus have the right to know what each side is striving for and reserve for themselves the right to judge who is fair and reasonable and who is unfair and unreasonable.
This is the basis on which we should vote in a future referendum if one is held. Keeping the people of Cyprus in the dark inevitably causes a feeling of concern and fear, which undermines the prospects for a settlement. The approach of holding secretive negotiations may have served a purpose thus far. However, I am of the opinion that the time has come for the two sides to open their cards in an honest and democratic fashion and to allow the people to judge.
Incidentally, I fail to understand why the media established in the southern part of Cyprus and, in particular the state-run Cybc, fail to allow “the other side” to express their fears and concerns.
I truly believe that it would be in the interests of the people of Cyprus if Mustafa Akinci (as well as other Turkish Cypriot politicians) were allotted time to freely express their views on all the issues, which are of concern to them.
I do not recollect seeing Akinci on Cybc TV. He represents 20 per cent of the people of Cyprus and he has the right to be heard, especially in view of the fact that people representing much smaller percentages of the Cypriot electorate are effectively given unlimited air-time. A corresponding right of access to the Turkish Cypriot mass communication media should be extended to the Greek Cypriot politicians.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist writing in the Cyprus Mail and in Alithia