The Financial Times reports that an EU effort to use a renowned Mediterranean cheese to bridge divisions on partitioned Cyprus, threatens to curdle in the face of a half-century old conflict.
The European bloc has stoked fierce disagreements on the island after it gave special status to the dairy product known as halloumi to Greek speakers and hellim to their Turkish- language counterparts.
The controversy over an apparently benign tweak to EU food rules highlights tensions ahead of international efforts this month to revive Cyprus peace talks after a near four-year hiatus.
“Every tiny confidence-building measure in Cyprus takes years to achieve,” said Fiona Mullen, director of the Cyprus-based consultancy Sapienta Economics. “But the bottom line is that the market for halloumi/hellim is large and growing and will benefit producers in both communities.”
This week the European Commission decided to give protected status to the versatile squeaky cheese, which is made from varying proportions of sheep, goat and cow’s milk. Products identified in this way as regional specialities — for example, champagne and Parma ham — can only be labelled as such if they are made in their designated places of origin.
As part of the package, the move by Brussels also allows businesses from the Turkish Cypriot north to sell hellim into the EU for the first time, by sending their products across the UN-supervised Green Line separating the two parts of the island. The cheese has been registered under both its Greek and Turkish names.
Turkey has occupied northern Cyprus since it invaded in 1974, an annexation it argues was justified to protect Turkish Cypriots after a Greek-backed coup. But Ankara is the only world capital to recognise the occupation.