THREE-AND-HALF years ago, in July 2015, the President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker visited Cyprus to discuss the peace process with the two leaders and ended up spending his time resolving the dispute between the two sides over the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) of halloumi/hellim. The Republic had submitted its application a year earlier, but it stumbled on objections by the Turkish Cypriots that had been left out of the process and filed appeals to the supreme court.
After a working lunch with the two leaders, Juncker announced, “we found a common understanding as far as the geographical protection of halloumi/hellim cheese under EU law is concerned.” At the end of July 2015, the Commission published Cyprus’ official application in the EU Journal, while the Commissioner of Regional Policy said the Green Line Regulation would also be amended to allow Turkish Cypriot producers to trade through the Republic’s ports. Agriculture minister at the time, Nikos Kouyialis, hailed the development and said he expected the process to be completed in six or seven months.
It is now February 2019 and the process has still not started, let alone been finalised. A press report on Wednesday blamed the Commission for not pushing the application and said that President Anastasiades wrote to Juncker asking him to proceed with the application. This was confirmed by the deputy government spokesperson, who said “the halloumi file must proceed and the government has taken all the necessary actions” to this end.
The question is why has it taken the government three-and-a-half years to do anything about the matter? Was it a coincidence that Anastasiades announced he would write to Juncker about the file a day after the House agriculture committee asked what had happened to the PDO application for halloumi/hellim? Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis told the committee the procedure ended successfully on a technocratic level, but was subsequently blocked for political reasons. The application, said Kadis was linked to the Cyprus problem and the Green Line Regulation, giving an indication of who was responsible for blocking the application.
The agreement brokered by Juncker that envisaged the amendment of the Green Line Regulation was temporary, pending the reunification of the island, something that did not seem as remote a possibility in 2015 as it does now. Someone blocked the Commission’s proposed amendment allowing dairy products to move across the Green Line and it could only have been the Cyprus government as the Turkish Cypriots had no interest in doing so. Are we to deduce that Anastasiades has now decided there is no harm in amending the Green Line regulation, because he is under political pressure to pursue the PDO application?