- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus has become the latest nation to propose paying women to have more babies in an attempt to reverse declining birthrates.

Faced with the lowest birthrate in the European Union, the Greek-Cypriot government wants to offer bonuses of $45,000 for a third child in a family and the same amount for subsequent children.

The amount of the suggested “baby premium” has stunned the divided island, where the Greek-speaking population of 700,000 faces some 256,000 Turks and Turkish Cypriots in the north of the island.

Industrial countries have adopted similar programs to boost birthrates, including Australia, Canada and Poland. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in his state-of-the-nation speech last year a plan that would provide nearly $10,000 to families with a second child.

In France, bonuses and tax breaks since 1993 have helped push up fertility rates to 1.9 babies per woman during their lifetime, second only to Ireland in the European Union.

In Cyprus the proposed baby bonus illustrates an ethnic dichotomy of the island’s two communities and their respective populations — Greek and Turkish, Christian and Muslim.

The plan surfaces at a time when demographers estimate that the growing influx of Muslim immigrants from the Turkish mainland and their high birthrate will eventually dwarf the present Greek majority and thus have a claim to the running of the republic.

The Greek-Cypriot birthrate has dropped to below 10 per 1,000 inhabitants a year, lower than those of the other EU members.

Labor Minister Antonis Vassiliou said Turkish Cypriots who register as citizens of the republic will also be entitled to the bonus.

“Not a good idea given [higher Muslim birthrates],” a columnist in the English language Cyprus Mail quipped, using an ethnic slur for emphasis.

With the 32-year-old talks on how to unite the Mediterranean island stalled once again, Greek Cypriot authorities express growing concern about the immigration of Turkish mainland settlers to the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” recognized only by Turkey.

Muslim Turkish settlers in the north number 124,000, or virtually half of the north’s population. Unlike the temporary foreign work force in the south, they show all intentions of staying, joining political parties and influencing the running of the Turkish-controlled area.

The Greek-Cypriot side claims that the Turkish immigrants are dramatically changing the demographic makeup of the island, particularly as many Turkish Cypriots emigrate.

The internationally recognized southern part of Cyprus has another population problem in addition to the falling birthrate: a shortage of labor, compensated for by the flow of workers from poorer EU countries attracted by higher wages than those at home and the massive presence of cheap labor from “third countries” such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

According to the latest statistics, 61,483 foreign workers of whom 16,483 are EU citizens are legally employed. The size of the suspected “black labor” has been unofficially estimated at 10,000.

The nursing profession and the booming construction industry are increasingly staffed by foreigners, but 547 “third country” nationals also work in education. About 10,000 foreign women work as household help and more than 1,000 are described as cabaret “artistes.”

The problem of steadily growing foreign labor appears to have dwarfed efforts to revive the communal dialogue and other efforts to search for a solution to the Cyprus split.

Before he retired as United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan regretted “the continued stalemate in the political process and the missed opportunities.”

Commented Greek-Cypriot columnist Loucas G. Charalambous: “It is abundantly clear that partition is the solution that suits everyone. … It is the solution that secures for everyone what they have today.”

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