The government’s complaint about the exclusion of small EU member-states as possible locations of EU institutions, made public on Monday, was not really justified. In a letter sent to the European Commission and the European Council, President Anastasiades complained because the criteria automatically ruled out smaller countries.
Cyprus applied last May to host the UK-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) that would be seeking a new country to move its 900 employees after Brexit in 2019. A ministerial committee was set up to promote Cyprus’ application but there was strong competition as another 20 states applied. Cyprus however was not eligible because it did not satisfy the criteria set by the EU, something the government described as unequal treatment.
This seemed a bit excessive considering some of the criteria that excluded Cyprus were of vital importance. One of these concerned the accessibility of the location, citing availability, frequency and duration of flight connections from the capitals of all EU member-states and the existence of airports close to the location. Considering 36,000 people visit the EMA every year the above criterion is perfectly understandable. The truth is that we are on the edge of Europe and apart from the distance there are no direct flight links to many capitals of member-states.
While little could be done about this, other criteria such as high-performing telecommunications and data storage networks could have been provided. In fact these are necessary for any country that promotes itself as an international business centre and wants to attract foreign investors. For instance, it is unacceptable that we have among the slowest internet speeds with Cyta not keen on upgrading the system on the dubious grounds there was not enough demand to justify it. For some things the investment has to be made regardless, especially if the objective is to attract foreign business.
The EMA experience has to be used by the government as a case study in what needs to be done to attract more foreign organisations. We might not be in the geographical location to attract any EU bodies but plenty of other businesses could set up operations here if the infrastructure for businesses was improved. And we are still waiting for the state bureaucracy to speed up its procedures which is one of the main obstacles to setting up businesses here. Even if there was a building to house an organisation of 900 workers how many years would it need to secure all the necessary licences from the state authorities?
Rather than complain about unequal treatment by the EU the government would do well to tackle all the reasons that might put off foreign business from setting up operations here.