It has recently been reported that the European Union, which hitherto has been firm on not making exceptional arrangements regarding harmonisation of candidate countries, has been under pressure from the Turkish side to change this rule regarding Cyprus.
It has been said in various quarters that in the event of an agreement being reached on Cyprus, Turkey, with perhaps the nod from some EU politicians, will press for an exception regarding the freedom of movement of persons and goods, which is one of the fundamental principles of the EU philosophy and Constitution. Malta is cited as a precedent: Malta stipulated a residency period of five years before one could own a property on the island, and the EU accepted this condition and therefore made an exceptional arrangement. Is there any justification for a similar arrangement in the case of Cyprus?
Put simply, no. The land that Denktash demands to be denied to the Greek Cypriots is the very land stolen from them in 1974 and since illegally occupied. Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights have re-affirmed that the lands and properties belong to those with title – principally the Greek Cypriots. Why should they, the rightful owners and heirs, be prevented from reclaiming and returning to their lands because those who stole it want it in perpetuity? We are talking here about rights of property; the real reason why Denktash insists on the inhabitants of the area of Cyprus under Turkish occupation, not being treated a ‘minority’ is because, as said openly, he does not want the Greek Cypriots reclaiming what is legally theirs. It is confiscation by any other name.
If exceptional arrangements or derogation involve:
(a) denying the refugees the right to return to their properties and
(b) effectively disallowing them from enjoying their properties, then this amounts to an illegal act.
Derogation cannot mean allowing the continuation of the illegal occupation of refugees’ lands and homes and only permit them, at best, to visit these properties without being able to reclaim or return to them. Flexibility is one thing but denial of human and legal rights is another.
The EU must be seen to be a party to a legal settlement and one which is in accordance with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and conforms to international law. Failure by the EU to observe these basic rules will lead to an embarrassing plethora of challenges in the courts.
More particularly, however, exceptional arrangements concerning the freedoms of movement, settlement and ownership in Cyprus would have disastrous consequences for the economic and social development of the region. There must be a speedy resolution of any uncertainty concerning property rights because inward investment depends on it. The Greek Cypriot refugees cannot be denied their right to title and to make use of their property as they wish. Any measures or exceptions concerning their rights can only damage economic recovery in the liberated areas because investment is based on confidence, expectation and above all, legality. Derogation can only lengthen the process of a settlement, subject it to legal challenge and create even greater confusion.
ANY EXCEPTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS CONCERNING FREE MOVEMENT SETTLEMENT AND OWNERSHIP CAN ONLY DAMAGE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES AND ECONOMIC RECOVERY IN THE AREA OF THE REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS CURRENTLY UNDER OCCUPATION AND COMPROMISE THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE CYPRIOT PEOPLE.