By Jean Christou
Crossings increased by 17 per cent last year, illegal immigration across the divide was down but trade between the two communities was only slightly up on 2013, according to the European Commission’s annual report on the Green Line Regulation on Tuesday.
Trade across the Green Line reached around €3.5m compared to €3.4m the previous year, a rise of 3.1 per cent. “Despite this slight increase, it remained at a low level,” the Commission said, adding that it was concerned by the figures.
The Green Line Regulation, adopted in 2004, sets out the terms under which persons and goods can cross the dividing line.
According to government data there were 589,906 crossings by Greek Cypriots, up from 520,410 in 2013. There were also 200,562 crossings by Greek Cypriot vehicles, up from 183,185.
There were 927,141 crossings by Turkish Cypriots, up from 877,759 and 346,495 crossings by Turkish Cypriot vehicles from 323,655.
Crossings are expected to increase this year since newly-elected Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci last month abolished the ‘visa’ papers at the checkpoints, a reason many Greek Cypriots did not cross.
In 2014, the number of EU citizens other than Cypriots and third-country nationals crossing the line also increased significantly, the Commission’s report said.
According to government data, 732,856 crossings took place by EU citizens other than Cypriots and third-country nationals, up from 517,580 previously.
Some 77 per cent of these crossings occurred through Ledra Street, “which continued to account for the vast majority of crossings by non-Cypriots – primarily tourists,” the Commission said.
The report mentioned an incident in which Greek Cypriot authorities did not allow the crossing of a Turkish Cypriot bus carrying EU citizens at Ayios Dhometios on February 26, 2014 because the driver did not have the correct permits.
“The Commission had already informed the Republic of Cyprus’ authorities that it is neither necessary nor appropriate to require an Operator Licence concerning a bus company which is located in the areas where the acquis does not apply and made public its position,” the report said. “Stability, predictability of practice at the crossing points and legal certainty are essential for attaining the objectives of the Regulation.”
As far as illegal immigrants coming from the north were concerned, Cyprus police data showed a decrease. Their number amounted in 2014 to 970, while in 2013, 2012 and 2011 it had been respectively 1,043, 1,265 and 1,311. The decrease has been attributed to the economic crisis, as well as an increased number of patrols.
In 2014, plastic products were the most traded item across the line, followed by fresh fish, building materials/articles of stone and raw metal scrap material.
“The overall scale of the trade remains at a low level, in part due to the specific scope of the Regulation itself. During the reporting period, certain obstacles to trade remained,” the report added.
It said Turkish Cypriot commercial vehicles above 7.5 tonnes and processed foods continue not to be authorised by Cypriot authorities.
The Commission’s services held contacts with the government to find a viable solution, and one for the crossing of processed foods.
“No outcome was reached at the end of the reporting period neither on commercial vehicles nor with regard to the issue of processed foods. Overall, and while the Green Line Regulation continues to provide a workable basis for allowing the passage of persons and goods to and from the government-controlled areas of the Republic of Cyprus, the Commission continues to be concerned that trade is at a low level.
Hence, there seems to be no evidence that economic interdependence between the two communities has increased,” it said, adding that removing the discussed obstacles would help significantly.
Trade from the government-controlled areas to the northern part of Cyprus represents 35.4 per cent of the trade in the opposite direction. The Commission said the Turkish Cypriot community continued to apply a trade regime which in principle “mirrors” the restrictions the Green Line Regulation imposes on them as far as their trade goes with the government-controlled areas.
“However, this regime is not always consistently applied, making it difficult to establish sustainable trade relations,” it said. Protection of local businesses is openly stated by Turkish Cypriot stakeholders as the main reason.
Commenting on the government’s reluctance to allow processed foods to enter, the Commission said that under the Regulation there are no grounds to carry out checks of premises in the north to assess if production takes place in line with EU rules.
“Whilst the authorities of the Republic of Cyprus may take samples of the products for further analysis in line with the application of the Green Line Regulation, they should not prevent all processed food from crossing,” the Commission said.
As in previous years, Turkish Cypriot traders continued to report difficulties in having their products stocked in shops and advertising their products and services in the south of the island “which hinders trade”. There is also a reluctance among Greek Cypriots to purchase Turkish Cypriot products.
The report said traders from both communities are faced with many administrative problems when wanting to enter into business with the other community.
“The economic operators from both sides need to be free to engage in trade relations, based on their business requirements. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has noted that trade is at a regrettably low level and expressed the view that encouraging trade can only have a positive effect on the objective of reunification,” said the Commission.
Smuggling also remains widespread. In 2014, Cypriot authorities conducted 2,627 seizures, confiscating 140,029 cigarettes and 370,794 grammes of hand rolling tobacco. The Commission said this smuggling consisted of small quantities and was due to the price differentials and the higher tax in the Republic.