Eu-Cyprus Joint Consultative Committee for Regions
The inaugural meeting of the Joint Consultative Committee between the EU Committee of the Regions and the Cypriot Republic took place on 14 October in Nicosia. "Cyprus has always been a part of the European family. Its application to join the EU is therefore a natural choice, a choice dictated by the culture of the island, its civilisation and its history, as well as its democratic traditions", said CoR Vice President Jean-Louis Joseph (F-PES). He added that the Committee of the Regions hopes that a political solution will soon be reached to what the 'Cyprus Question', in a way that will remove a source of tension in the region and allow the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities - and their local and regional authorities - to benefit from the advantages of accession.
The Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus, Ioannis Kassoulides, said: "The establishment and the functioning of this joint consultative committee constitutes one more step towards the accession of our country to the EU. Institutions like this promote the real meaning of the objective of the EU for an ever closer union of European citizens."
The poor level of preparation of Cypriot local authorities for the challenge of enlargement lay at the heart of discussions This is seen as all the more significant a shortcoming in that more than 60% of Community legislation needs to implemented by Cypriot local authorities. The meeting in Nicosia provided an opportunity for representatives of local and regional authorities on both sides to get to know one another better, to take stock of their respective problems and exchange experience and good practices on the preparation of regions for integration into the European Union.
CoR Vice-President Jean-Louis Joseph warned that "the integration of the candidate countries into the European Union is not all tranquillity". Whilst they can count on the support and solidarity of the Committee of the Regions in tacking the major challenge of enlargement, Cypriot local and regional authorities nevertheless need to get more involved. Leopold Maurer, the European Commission's Chief negotiator on Cyprus' accession outlined a long list of additional efforts awaiting local players. Both waste management and the quality of bathing waters, two areas where local authorities can play a major role, "still leave much to be desired, particularly as Cyprus is a country dependent on tourism" its leading source of revenue (2.8 million visitors in 2001 for a population of about 800,000). The same goes for another area where town halls and other local authorities have no small measure of responsibility: scope in the Community acquis for other European citizens buying land and second residences in Cyprus. The Cypriots have indeed been able to negotiate a five-year transition period, but in the long term, local authorities will need to "take account of this provision within the framework of their urban and rural development plans", according to Leopold Maurer. Given that time is short, the Cypriots need to set to work immediately in order to bring themselves up to standard, since in one year they will in principle be part of the European family.
More serious still is the poor perception and lack of understanding among citizens and local elected representatives of issues concerning the European Union and its decisions. Be it a lack of organisation, a shortage of personnel versed in Community procedures or a poor understanding of foreign languages, the European Commission has pledged to tackle this general information and training deficit head on with the support of the EU Committee of the Regions, which has a key role to play in the exchange of good practices, a fact emphasised throughout discussions. …