This is likely to be the first year, since the opening of the checkpoints in 2003 that more Greek Cypriot will have crossed north than Turkish Cypriots crossed south. A report in Politis, looking at the number of people going through the checkpoints, said that until the end of May, this year, there were 800,608 crossings to the north by Greek Cypriots compared with 514,654 crossings by Turkish Cypriots to the south. If the same trend continued for the rest of the year, the number of Greek Cypriot crossings would be double the number for 2018 and triple that of 2017 the paper said.
Had Greek Cypriots, many of whom refused to go to the occupied area as a matter of principle, suddenly taken an interest in seeing the north and mingling with their Turkish Cypriot compatriots? The answer is more mundane than this. They are going to the north for economic reasons – they can buy cheap petrol, medicine and tobacco among other things. As the Politis report said, the surge in crossings coincided with the fall of the Turkish Lira in the middle of 2018 that made the already low prices even lower.
It suffices to say that a litre of 95 octane petrol is 40 cents cheaper (33 per cent) than it is in the Republic, something Greek Cypriots are taking full advantage of. The total number of vehicle crossings to the north in 2018 was 486,000 whereas the figure for the first five months of this year is already 419,000.
The Cyprus authorities have raised their hands, unable to do anything to stop drivers from crossing north for cheaper petrol, despite calls by political parties for action. Economic benefit, especially during these hard times, overrides political principles. And if the driver is also a smoker and buys cigarettes in the north as well, he or she will make a significant monthly saving.
All this means lost tax revenue for the Cyprus government, which will eventually feel the pinch, as the number of Greek Cypriots going north for petrol and other highly-taxed products is bound to increase. It will not be long before the oil companies that are regularly criticised for the high price of petrol, will start complaining to the government about steadily falling revenue. Would the government lower fuel tax to appease them and thus reduce its own tax revenue or will it close the crossings? There is no obvious solution to a problem that is set to grow.