The term ‘four freedoms’ for Turkish nationals in a federal Cyprus entered our lives at the Geneva Conference in January.
Not because it was a new demand, but because the equitable treatment of Turkish and Greek nationals in Cyprus – an issue as old as the negotiations themselves – only came to be referred to as the ‘four freedoms’ at that Conference.
The balance of power between Turkey and Greece was first established in the constitution of the 1960 Republic of Cyprus, which gave the two countries the ‘most favoured nation’ status.
The Annan Plan included provisions to maintain the balance of power and extend equitable treatment to Turkish and Greek nationals in Cyprus.
Former leaders Demetris Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat had agreed “to extend to Turkish citizens, treatment as close as possible to the results of the enjoyment of the four freedoms of the EU by nationals of Greece.”
This agreement was also accepted by the current leaders Mustafa Akinci and Nicos Anastasiades in 2015. It must be underlined here that the sides also agreed that this arrangement would be of a “bilateral nature and limited to Cypriot territory”.
Per the Ankara Agreement, its Additional Protocol and Decisions of the Association Council and the Customs Union, Turkey already partly enjoys the EU’s four freedoms – namely the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital.
The European Court of Justice has also decided that these agreements give specific rights to Turkish nationals and businesses that are legally present in an EU member state (i.e. visa-free travel for Turkish service providers). Turkey being its fifth biggest trading partner, the EU market is already open to Turkish products from textiles to automotives.
Under Article 63 of the Lisbon Treaty all restrictions on the movement of capital between EU member states and third countries are prohibited. So what are the Turkish side’s demands in the context of a solution? The Turkish side wants Turkish nationals, who come to a federal Cyprus as tourists or students to be able to enter the country only with their passports without needing a visa – similar to the practice in the Greek islands.
When it comes to residence, the Turkish side is seeking a balance between the Turkish and Greek nationals residing on the island with the understanding that this doesn’t upset the demographic structure of the island. The sides are yet to agree on the ratio of Greek and Turkish residents, with the Greek Cypriot side demanding a 4:1 ratio.
While the Greek Cypriot side wants the 4:1 ratio to also apply for the Greek and Turkish workers on the island, the Turkish side argues that imposing a limit on Turkish labour force in a federal Cyprus would be a violation of the Ankara Agreement, which covers the free movement of workers, businesses and services between Turkey and EU.
Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides have already agreed that work permits in a federal Cyprus will be decided upon and given by a federal body with an equal number of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot members. Therefore, the fear that Turkish workers will flood Cyprus does not hold much ground.
Despite widespread reports claiming otherwise, the EU Commission has never came out publicly against granting equitable treatment to Turkish and Greek nationals in Cyprus.
The message repeatedly given by the Commission to the sides has been that the priority of the EU is the settlement of the Cyprus problem and that equitable treatment of Turkish and Greek nationals can be accommodated without any need for any special arrangements or derogations from EU law.
In fact, the practice is not novel to the EU as there already are some EU member states that extend such rights to non-EU countries (Portugal’s extension of such rights to Brazil).