Lawmakers on Tuesday vented their anger at the government for belatedly tabling a bill seeking to transpose an EU directive into domestic law, for which the European Commission has already initiated infringement proceedings against Cyprus.

The bill in question refers to cross-border company mergers, creating harmonised rules on cross-border conversions and divisions. The directive, part of the EU Commission’s Company Law Package, aims to meet the objective of an internal market without internal borders for companies, and to reconcile this with the objective of social protection, including additional rules to provide for rights to information and participation for employees and protection for members and creditors.

The EU directive was supposed to have been transposed by January 31, 2023. The government tabled it to parliament on January 18 of this year.

MPs complained this was common practice on the part of the government – tabling EU legislation too late and then leaving parliament with a tight deadline under threat of sanctions from Brussels.

In March 2023 the European Commission sent Cyprus a letter of formal notice for its failure to transpose the directive on time. Subsequently, in November 2023 Brussels sent Nicosia a reasoned opinion. A reasoned opinion is the last stage before Brussels may refer the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union, which can impose fines on non-compliant member-states.

A representative of the attorney-general’s office, however, informed MPs that Cyprus has meantime got a reprieve from Brussels – an extension until March 15 this year to pass the law.

She said the attorney-general’s office has vetted the bill, so parliamentarians should have little trouble meeting the new deadline.

But MPs complained this still left little time to review a complex piece of legislation.

Company Registrar Irini Mylona-Chrysostomou said that authorities here began drafting the Cypriot bill way back in 2020. She cited “difficulties” due to the coronavirus pandemic as well as understaffing. As a result, the drafting of the bill had to be farmed out to an attorney from the private sector.

Chair of the House commerce committee Kyriacos Hadjiyiannis said MPs would do their best to fast-track the bill so that Cypriot taxpayers do not get burdened with a possible hefty fine should the case end up at the European Court of Justice.

Commerce Minister George Papanastasiou has asked parliament to take the bill to the plenum for a vote as soon as possible.