The European Union is refusing to intervene in a row over South Cyprus suspending the Green Line Regulation for European citizens. Currently, visitors from EU countries and EU nationals resident in North Cyprus are prevented from crossing the Green Line border that divides the island into the Turkish North and the Greek South.
Mustafa Akıncı, the president of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), and Kudret Özersay, the Foreign Minister, leaders of all six political parties in the TRNC Parliament, and dozens of individuals have all written to the European Commission about the “unreasonable restrictions”, which were first imposed by Greek Cypriots in February of this year.
The Commission responded by stating the Greek Cypriot policy was justified on the grounds of “public health” concerns, claiming these were only “temporary restrictions”, which could be implemented due to the “exceptional circumstances.”
The TRNC Foreign Minister Özersay called the EU’s response “unsatisfactory” after receiving a letter from the office of Ursula Von der Leyen (pictured top, alongside Dr. Özersay), the President of the European Commission with comments similar to the standard response EU citizens have received after complaining about the restrictions.
Dr. Özersay stated that the ban “is a purely political decision” and has “no connection with the epidemic measures.” He accused the Greek Cypriot leadership of using the virus to “adversely affect the Turkish Cypriot economy.”
President Akıncı also rejected the EU response and said, “It is not acceptable to obstruct the crossing of EU citizens.” His comments came after a meeting with Orhan Tolun, the head of KIITSAB, the Turkish Cypriot travel agents association on Thursday.
The Turkish Cypriot leader said he was pressing the EU, United Nations and the Greek Cypriot side for an urgent resolution to the problems, which included the re-opening of the Ledra Street crossing.
At the insistence of the Greek Cypriot authorities, the popular checkpoint in the heart of capital Lefkoşa/Nicosia has been closed to everyone since February 2020, hitting traders located nearby particularly hard due to the massive drop in footfall.
Last month, foreign residents in North Cyprus joined hundreds of Turkish Cypriots representing 17 civil society groups, including the Turkish Cypriot Chambers of Commerce (KTTO) and Industry (KIBSO), the Hoteliers Union, Union of Restaurant Owners, Union Public Transport Carriers, and Association Of Turkish Cypriots Abroad, in a big protest against the ban on foreign nationals crossing the Green Line.
There were protests too when the South Cyprus authorities unilaterally closed all the Green Line checkpoints under the pretext of containing the coronavirus pandemic. Pro-unification Greek and Turkish Cypriots against the closures clashed with police by the Ledra Street checkpoint.
As Covid-19 infections and deaths took hold on both sides of the island in March, the Turkish Cypriot government also took the decision to close its land, sea and air borders to international traffic.
On 1 July, with the virus contained, the Turkish Cypriot authorities re-opened their borders, setting visitors entry rules according to the coronavirus risk category of the country they were travelling from. The Greek Cypriots did the same, however they also maintained the ban on visitors from EU countries crossing the Green Line.
Cypriots against the checkpoint closures clashed with Greek Cypriot police in Nicosia on 7 March 2020
Currently, only Cypriots and permanent residents in South Cyprus can cross the Green Line, as long as they present a negative coronavirus test certificate not older than three days for each time they cross.
TRNC foreign residents and tourists from EU member states arriving at Larnaca and Paphos airports have had their passage across the Green Line blocked by Greek Cypriot police. A few who tried to enter the TRNC via the Beyarmudu/Pergamos checkpoint, by the Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area, were told by British officials they can cross to the North, but were prohibited from crossing back.
Turkish Cypriots argue that the ban on EU nationals is a direct contravention of the 2004 Green Line Regulation, which enables the “free movement of people, goods and services” throughout Cyprus. While some restrictions apply due to the political division of the island, a core principle of the Regulation is the right of EU citizens to freely cross at any one of the approved Green Line checkpoints.