The House Interior Committee on Thursday completed an article-by-article discussion of sweeping reforms to local government, acknowledging that though differences remain, they were gradually inching towards consensus on many aspects of the three bills.

Having set the target of sending the bills to the plenary by November 30, MPs will now focus on bridging their differences, primarily on the number of municipalities and communities that will remain and whether to have many or a single referendum to approve the changes. The package must be approved before the end of the year for Cyprus to qualify for financing from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience fund.

Interior Minister Nicos Nouris who attended Thursday’s committee meeting praised the methodological way the proposed reform was being handled which gave rise to ‘cautious optimism’ that the timeline will be met.

“It is clear that what divides us is nearly minimal,” he said, adding that there was a constructive approach by all to reach the desired result.

Committee president Aristos Damianos welcomed the ‘spirit of cooperation’ which has allowed MPs to cover considerable ground towards completing discussion of the bills.

“It is no secret that there are several contentious issues, such as the number of municipalities and mergers,” he said. But he noted that consensus was reached on other open issues which until recently appeared difficult to bridge.

The president of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities and Larnaca mayor Andreas Vyras said that the meeting had been very constructive, adding that at this rate, the desired result – a complete reform – will be achieved.

The stated aim of the reform is to achieve economies of scale and lower the cost of services, but several key issues have emerged throughout the process, such as some municipalities not wishing to merge.

The issue has dragged on for years, with the government and political parties hoping to make it through the finish line this time.

Last month, the House plenum voted to postpone local government elections that would have taken place in December, pending the reform. Existing municipal and community councils will remain in office until May 2024.