PRESIDENT Anastasiades did not pull his punches in the scathing letter he sent to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, to complain about the delays in registering halloumi/hellim as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). “The delay and inaction by the Commission regarding Cyprus’ application is an issue that causes us great concern,” he said in the three-page letter, excerpts of which were published in Phileleftheros.
Without the PDO, Cyprus was finding it difficult to fend off attempts by third parties to register the trademark of the Cypriot product or use the halloumi/hellim name, he noted. He also wrote: “the principles of good governance, legal safeguards and sincere co-operation that guide the actions of the EU make imperative a final decision immediately, on behalf of the Commission, on this application.” He also pointed out that the EU website gave four to 10 months for the registration of a product in the ‘cheese category’ while Cyprus had been waiting for three-and-a-half years.
That there has been an unprecedented delay in dealing with the application is indisputable. A “common understanding” had been reached at a meeting of Juncker, Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, in Nicosia on July 16, 2015. Juncker said at the time that “we found a common understanding as far as the geographical protection of halloumi-hellim cheese under EU law is concerned.” The application was published in the official journal of the EU on July 28 of that year.
This, however, is only part of the story. After the July 16 agreement, the Cyprus government set four conditions for the halloumi-hellim PDO application to proceed. Most are legalistic objections, of the type the Cyprus foreign ministry specialises in. For instance it wanted the hellim produced by the Turkish Cypriots to be exported via the Republic’s port’s because otherwise the door to direct trade of the north with the rest of the world would be opened. Another condition was that the foreign company that would certify the Turkish Cypriot hellim standards would have to submit its six-monthly reports to the Republic and not directly to the Commission.
Regardless of the merits of these conditions, the fact is that Anastasiades had gone back on what he had agreed with Juncker and Akinci in July 2015 by setting new conditions for the application. The Commission had not taken any action on the PDO application for three-and-a-half years because the Cyprus government had subsequently tried to dictate changes to the agreement of 2015, without consultations with either the Turkish Cypriots or the Commission. Was this Anastasiades’ idea of the “sincere co-operation” he wrote about in his letter to Juncker?
This is not the behaviour of a trustworthy president. Even if Anastasiades realised subsequently that he was mistaken in reaching a “common understanding” about how the PDO application would be pursued, he should have stuck to the agreement, in order to show he was a man of his word. Instead he has shown Juncker and the Commission that he cannot be trusted to honour what he has agreed. He has exhibited the same untrustworthiness in the Cyprus talks, going back on things he had agreed such as political equality, now claiming this was unjust and would not lead to a functional state.
On the Cyprus problem, he can say whatever he pleases and be as untrustworthy as he likes, because he can always blame Turkish intransigence, which is very easy to sell to the Greek Cypriot public. But when this untrustworthiness is routinely displayed in his dealings with the European Commission and the UN (publicly labelling a respected diplomat such as Espen Barth Eide a liar) it cannot be good for the country. Who will take seriously the letters the president supposedly sends to foreign leaders to explain to them the Cyprus talks had failed because of Turkey’s intransigence? Who in the European Commission would believe he is sincerely interested in a resumption of the talks when he has so blatantly gone back on his word on the PDO application?
Perhaps because he gets away with this behaviour domestically, Anastasiades feels that he can also do as he pleases in his relations abroad. Perhaps he does not mind that as a consequence of his actions, he will not be taken seriously abroad. We just hope Cyprus does not have to pay the cost of the untrustworthiness of Anastasiades which is fast becoming the trademark of his presidency.