|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||16/05/96, Volume 2, Number 20|
CYPRIOTS go to the polls at the end of this month to elect a new parliament, the seventh since the island nation won independence from the UK in 1960.
The new assembly will bear a heavy responsibility as caretaker of Cyprus' eligibility for joining the EU - continuing the process of harmonising the country's legislation with Union rules and helping maintain the economic conditions which would already make Cyprus eligible for monetary union.
But it may not be the parliament that ushers Cyprus into the sought after club, as it seems clear that the government will have to resolve the political rift which has split the island since 1974 before it can enter the Union.
Not much has been accomplished since American troubleshooter Richard Holbrooke declared 1996 the “year of Cyprus”. The EU sent an envoy, Federico di Roberto, to report on the conditions there and on progress towards unity. But his mission does not appear to have lasted very long, and the Turkish government has complained that his work was biased, making contact only with the Greek side and not presenting the position of the Turkish enclave which represents some 18&percent; of the population.
While the EU has said the island's two halves are not required to unite before Cyprus can join the Union and has committed itself to starting membership talks, officials privately admit they cannot envision allowing Cyprus into the club in its current state.
A diplomat from the UK, normally Cyprus' champion in its bid for accession to the Union, said bringing a divided country into the EU would amount to “monumental folly”.
Official Union statements sound like the old chicken-and-egg riddle - some say unity on the island would ease its accession, while others say EU membership could help resolve Cyprus' problem.
European Parliament President Klaus Hänsch has taken the latter tack, as has the Nicosia government of President Glafcos Clerides.
Meanwhile, tension between Greece and Turkey over a disputed Aegean island has not helped matters. The Aegean flare-up has prevented Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos from making the sort of conciliatory gestures towards Ankara that he had been expected to deliver when he stepped into the post in March.
Athens-Ankara tension does worry Cypriots, said a Cypriot diplomat, but Nicosia looks beyond those capitals to larger organs like the Union and the United Nations for the solutions to the island's problems.
Cypriots have been upset by EU officials who continue to calculate the impact of the Aegean tension on Cyprus's accession, although Foreign Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek has said that the dispute does not alter the Union's strategy for the region.
Foreign Minister Alecos Michaelides told a joint meeting between MEPs and Cypriot parliamentarians in March that there should be no link whatsoever.
Michaelides has said his government supports an EU initiative to inform Turkish Cypriots about the benefits of Union membership in a bid to garner their support for accession and break down resistance to peace efforts.
The Commission and EU governments continue to prepare Nicosia for membership, with a proliferation of sectoral meetings under the “structured dialogue”, bringing ministers together on topics as diverse as agriculture and disarmament.
Cyprus has been brought into several EU research programmes, and a recent European Investment Bank mission to Cyprus has resulted in a schedule of loans to the island.
Since the Euro-Mediterranean initiative was launched last November, Cyprus and Malta have had another forum in which to strengthen their ties to the Union. But even that may not be immune to the problem of Cyprus' division, if talk centres on subjects such as recognising university degrees - the university in the Turkish enclave is considered illegal by the rest of the island, and is not recognised by the EU.
Turkish Cypriots apart, island residents are for the most part unified in their desire to join the Union. The subject has not been a cause for debate in the run-up to the 26 May elections. Political parties across the ideological spectrum generally favour EU membership, with even the Communist party seeing some advantages for the Turkish enclave in membership .
A new, right-wing party has emerged in recent weeks, but it is small and not expected to have any impact on the legislature's position on Europe.
The outgoing parliament has been diligent in transcribing EU rules into Cypriot legislation, and there is little debate in the chamber about the need to do so. The work of harmonising the two systems is mostly done by government ministries, and debate in parliament about those decisions is limited, say Cypriot officials.
“There is a more or less an accepted line that this is needed,” said one. “And you can't debate EU law because it is already law.”
A new European Institute opened its doors in Nicosia last month, tasked with helping to harmonise Cypriot policies with those of the EU.
In its bid for customs union with the EU by 1998, the country has also introduced value-added tax, which officials say seems to be working.
Nicosia diplomats say they do not expect the forthcoming elections to change the relative weights of the island's two main-stream parties, so the next legislature is expected to continue the push for EU membership. The more pressing question, however, may be whether it can change the balance of relations with the Turkish part of the island.
|Subject Categories||Economic and Financial Affairs|
|Countries / Regions||Cyprus, Malta|