EU: Cyprus Ready for Admission
By George Gilson, Athens News
Reprinted by Permission
CYPRUS received its strongest boost yet towards accession to the European Union, but Nicosia and Athens remained keenly aware that the real ticket for the divided island's admission to the safe harbour of the European club depends on the political decision scheduled to be made at a December 12 EU summit in Copenhagen. The US and Britain have steadfastly supported Cyprus' EU admission, believing that this will facilitate a political settlement.
An October 9 European Commission report on the progress of 10 candidates indicated that Cyprus, which led all fellow candidates in fulfilling requirements, will be ready to join the EU on schedule in 2004. At the same time, it reiterated hopes that a UN-sponsored political settlement between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities can be achieved by the end of the year.
"Cyprus has made good progress in the accession negotiations. Solution of the Cyprus problem before Cyprus' accession to the European Union would be beneficial for all parties, but was not a precondition for EU membership," the report stated. "The Commission has repeatedly concluded that Cyprus fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria [for admission]," it underlined.
Athens continues to back Turkey's admission
Athens was careful to show restraint after Cyprus' success as fellow candidate Turkey was denied a much coveted date for the start of its own EU accession talks. Foreign Minister George Papandreou called Turkish counterpart Sukru Sina Gurel on October 9 to say that Athens will still try to rally support among the 15 EU leaders for Ankara to be granted a date at the December 12 Copenhagen summit.
The Greek foreign ministry indicated that Papandreou deliberately avoided referring to Gurel's threat to the EU on the previous day that admitting Cyprus would lead to the permanent partition of the island.
Commission President Romano Prodi termed the Union's eastward enlargement as a "revolutionary" step that will contribute to the security and prosperity of the continent and expressed the conviction that the 10 "first-wave" candidates will be "ready for membership from the beginning of 2004", as scheduled. "Our objective is to sign the accession treaty in spring next year. We are therefore in the final stages of the process," he underlined.
Still, an upcoming Irish referendum on the Treaty of Nice, which provided for the enlargement, could seriously delay the process. The Commission has estimated that enlargement will cost the Union 40 billion euros between 2004 and 2006. For Cyprus, with over a third of its territory occupied by 35,000 Turkish troops for the last 28 years, the Commission's report could hardly have been better. "Bearing in mind the progress achieved since the 1998 Regular Report, the level of alignment that Cyprus has achieved at this point in time and its track record in implementing the commitments it has made in the negotiations, the Commission considers that Cyprus will be able to assume the obligations of membership in accordance with the envisaged time frame," the Commission stated.
Cypriot economy gets positive nod
Noting Cyprus' progress in strengthening public administration by new posts and training, the report recognises that the Cypriot economy "should be able to cope with the competitive pressure and market forces within the Union". It calls for further improvements in liberalising the telecom, energy, air transport and postal services sectors. Improved coordination and supervision of banks and financial institutions is also advised.
Overall, the country's progress in adopting the enormous acquired body of EU laws and regulations, known as the community acquis, is praised. While indicating areas where work is still needed, the report states that "Cyprus has achieved a good degree of alignment with the acquis in most areas and is advanced towards reaching adequate administrative capacity to implement the acquis in a considerable number of fields". Specific progress is identified in the areas concerning the internal market and the free movement of goods, company law, as well as the liberalisation of the free movement of persons and capital. Alignment with EU publ ic procurement practices must still be improved, however, and the state is urged to continue improvements in eliminating money laundering.
Cyprus also receives high marks for taxation, where a comprehensive tax reform "moved Cyprus significantly forward". The transport sector is judged "largely in line with the acquis" and legislative alignment on safety issues is described as "particularly improved".
Division still a non-issue
"Cyprus continues to respect human rights and freedoms. This was the conclusion of previous Regular Reports, and has been confirmed over the past year," the report underlined, noting that the country has ratified all major human rights conventions. "Any direct or indirect discrimination against any person on the grounds of his community, race, religion, language, sex, political or other convictions, national or social descent, birth, colour, wealth, social class or any grounds whatsoever is prohibited under article 28 of the Cypriot Constitution," it noted. Cyprus also ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
The Commission underscored its desire for a political settlement in Cyprus while underlining that a solution is not a prerequisite for EU admission. "The conclusions of the European Council in Helsinki in December 1999 remain the basis of the EU position: "A political settlement will facilitate the accession of Cyprus to the European Union. If no settlement has been reached by the completion of accession negotiations, the Council's decision on accession will be taken without the above being a precondition. In this the Council will take account of all relevant factors."
The report, citing the UN Security Council's July 9 statement that "the Turkish-Cypriot side had been less constructive in its approach so far and had declined to support the goal of resolving the core issues by the end of June" appeared to suggest that such relevant factors so far do not hinder the Republic of Cyprus' application. The Commission urged Turkey to "lend full support to efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement this year".