Workers up in arms as Cyprus starts seeing the flip side of the EU coin

LIMASSOL (Reuters) – Cypriot truckers staged a weeklong strike and potato farmers, up in arms over a cut in subsidies, want out of the industry. Both have pointed a finger of blame at the European Union. Cyprus has long been of the most Europhile of the 10 countries joining the 15-nation bloc in May, but Cypriots are starting to get twitchy about what membership actually entails. Thorny issues in other countries like the Common Agricultural Policy were footnotes for the divided Mediterranean island. However, that has started to change as protectionism is dismantled, farming subsidies are cut and tax rises imposed. «The argument put to people on the benefits of joining was political from day one,» said James Ker-Lindsay, head of the Civilitas Research think tank in Nicosia. «The security aspect was the one always raised and it is evidently very important, but now people are starting to question all the other aspects of accession as well. It had to happen sooner or later.» Cyprus has been divided between the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot south and the Turkish-occupied north since a Turkish invasion in 1974 prompted by a brief Greek-inspired coup, and portrayals of EU membership as a way to ensure Turkey does not make another attempt dominated public debate about joining the bloc. Nowhere are last-minute jitters more evident than Limassol port, a sprawling compound on the southern coast where hundreds of cargo containers piled up during the weeklong walkout by truckers, which ended yesterday. Truckers staged their protest over new EU licensing rules barring them from selling on their heavy-goods vehicle licenses when they retire, which they said threatened their livelihood. The benefits of living in a massive single market without borders matter little to people like truckdriver Athanassios Tzortas if it means his job is on the line. «Members of parliament just rushed in and changed the law because they were in such a hurry to comply with the EU,» he shrugged. «They didn’t even go to the trouble of telling us.» Earlier this week, one newspaper questioned whether membership was worth all the sacrifices needed to meet EU regulations. Businesses accustomed to state protection are struggling and disgruntled potato farmers went to Parliament earlier this week to demand government compensation to help them cope with the impact of subsidy cuts. Consumers are already complaining about price rises eroding living standards. But the subsidies, rescue packages and tax breaks that the government used to have a free hand with now belong to the past, the English-language Cyprus Mail said: «It was a rude awakening nobody was properly prepared for.»