|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||14/11/96, Volume 2, Number 42|
When EU foreign ministers meet their Cypriot and Maltese counterparts later this month, the tension may well be palpable.
Following a surprise election victory last month by Malta's Labour Party, Mediterranean enlargement is in danger of losing momentum.
While no one openly admits that the islands' bids are formally linked, Malta's promised withdrawal from full EU accession negotiations has, according to some commentators, left Cyprus out on a limb.
In particular, political pressure for the Union to expand southwards - from Italy, for example - may grow weaker with Malta out of the picture.
But a spokesman for the Cyprus government dismisses any such speculation. “Malta's withdrawal will have no effect whatsoever,” he insists. “The two cases were not interdependent.”
Cypriot Foreign Minister Alecos Michaelides, describing EU accession as a “unique catalyst” in the drive to resolve Cypriot divisions, warned that “any statements or actions casting doubts or reservations are damaging this prospect”.
Brussels sources support these statements. “There was a simultaneity of the procedures, but I do not see why Cyprus should pay for the actions of Malta,” said one official. “Its position could have had more effect if the avis [Commission document accepting Cyprus' application] was not on the table, and if the European Council had not fixed a clear date for the start of negotiations.”
Nevertheless, there is some nervousness amongst supporters of the island's application to join the Union as they wait to see how things pan out.
Part of that is prompted by the lack of any firm understanding of exactly what Malta wants. Aside from a commitment to abandon value added tax and a request for consultations via the EU mission on the island, there has been little of substance to clarify its stance since the election.
Prime Minister Alfred Sant wasted no time in formally withdrawing from NATO's Partnership for Peace (PFP) programme - “considered to be incom-patible with the constitutional provisions that define Malta's neutrality” - but no such note has been sent to the European Commission or the Council of Ministers.
The reason appears to be that Malta plans to have its cake and eat it. “This is not a turn away from the EU at all. We are still going in the same direction. We will aim to come as close as humanly possible without becoming full members,” Deputy Prime Minister George Vella told European Voice this week.
Vella said he hoped to negotiate an industrial free trade zone and pursue a close relationship with EU institutions, but maintain protection on agriculture. But he insisted that, whatever happened, he certainly did not wish to hamper Cypriot chances of joining the Union.
Besides, say diplomats, any effect Malta could have on Cyprus' application would be minor compared to the obstacles presented by the island's internal politics.
“Cyprus' problems with Turkey will be incomparably more decisive in the evolution of its membership bid,” said a Brussels official.
As it stands, the deep divisions between Cypriot Turks and Greeks should not block the country's accession to the Union. Many feel that only membership of the EU would create the necessary conditions for peace.
“Cyprus is likely to be in the next tranche of EU enlargement,” said British MEP and Socialist Group leader Pauline Green, who plays an active role on the European Parliament's Cyprus committee.
If Finance Minister Christodoulos Christodoulou is to be believed, the country's financial situation should certainly not cause any difficulties.
“In terms of macroeconomic indicators, the performance of the Cyprus economy compares favourably with the performance of most EU members,” he told a recent conference. Christodoulou pointed to continued average gross domestic product growth of 5&percent; over the past five years, with a strong currency pegged to the ecu since 1992. Debt stood at 54&percent; of GDP in 1995 and the deficit at 0.9&percent; of GDP.
“It is noteworthy that in 1995, Cyprus and Luxembourg were the only countries to fully satisfy all the Maastricht convergence criteria,” he added.
|Countries / Regions||Cyprus, Malta|