19th Mar 2018


Northern Cyprus: the other side of the Green Line

Eight years after Cyprus' EU accession and shortly before it does its first-ever EU presidency, Turkish-Cypriots are a neglected but interesting subplot in EU history.

In 2004, failure to re-unify Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots in one state set the stage for a difficult enlargement: Cyprus entered the EU as a whole island, but with the administrative head of the Republic of Cyprus, home to Greek-Cypriots, in the southern part of the country.

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  • The EU is the only global actor to engage in the exclusive Turkish-Cypriot zone (Photo: Christopher Rose)

The northern part - home to Turkish-Cypriots, who split from the south in a brief war in 1974 - is designated as territory de facto beyond Greek-Cypriot control and consequently exempt from implementing EU law.

To address the situation, the EU designed a special development programme for Turkish-Cypriots which aims to facilitate preparation for full EU integration when or if re-unification comes.

Politically, this EU assistance represents a reward for the Turkish-Cypriots. They accepted re-unification in 2004 but the Greek-Cypriots rejected it in a referendum, putting the Turkish-Cypriots - in the words of the then enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen - "out in the cold".

The most important instrument of Turkish-Cypriot assistance is the Financial Aid Regulation.

The EU back in 2006 set aside €259 million for bringing Turkish-Cypriots closer to the Union, based on a strategy similar to previous enlargements. So far, harmonisation with EU law has positively affected the environment, agricultural and financial activities. Assistance to civil society has also been important.

The Green Line Regulation is another EU initiative stemming from the complex accession model.

Due to the suspension of EU law in the north, this regulation controls movement of goods and persons across the border or 'Green Line.' It also aims to promote the Turkish-Cypriot economy.

Recent years have seen an increase in Turkish-Cypriot trade with the Greek-Cypriot side - from just over €1 billion in 2004 to €5.4 billion in 2010.

Since 2005, a High Level Contact Group has also helped MEPs to meet up with Turkish-Cypriot politicians and NGOs.

The fact the EU institutions do not recognise the Turkish-Cypriot administration makes interaction hard.

The fact the Greek-Cypriot government wields its EU veto to constrain EU-Turkish-Cypriot engagement and EU-Turkey enlargement - to stop anything which legitimises its break-off limb - makes it even harder.

The EU's role in northern Cyprus represents a unique moment in the history of European integration - what is happening here is enlargement but inside an existing member state.

Although challenging, the role of the EU in northern Cyprus is a success story.

Despite failing to stop the accession of a divided island, Brussels has responded with a good degree of flexibility to a unique and thorny situation.

The EU is the first and only global player to make a mark in the limbo zone of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Because of this, it is an important force behind reforms which promise to modernise it and to one day bring its people out of the cold and into the normal world.

The writer teaches European politics at the University of Warwick and Manchester in the UK

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