The Cyprus Presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2012 will direct its efforts towards a more efficient and sustainable Europe, with a better performing economy based on growth, more relevant to its citizens and with an active presence in the world, says Demetris Christofias, President of the Republic of Cyprus, in an interview for this website.
Mr President, before taking over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, for the first time since Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, your country formulated the vision of a Better Europe, a Union more relevant to its citizens and the world, offering a positive outlook, especially to the younger generations. How can this vision be promoted in the current economic environment?
The Cyprus Presidency will work Towards a Better Europe, a European Union more relevant to its citizens and the world. We believe that discussion should move away from the traditional debate of whether there should be “more” or “less” Europe. What really matters now is to have a better Europe; a more efficient and sustainable Europe; a Europe, with a better performing economy based on growth; a Europe more relevant to its citizens; and a Europe with an active presence in the world, which is close to its neighbours.
There is no doubt that the socio-economic consequences of the financial and sovereign-debt crises in the EU have adversely affected the daily lives of Europeans, thus seriously undermining social cohesion. It is high time that all our efforts were directed towards a Better Europe for the younger generations. This is the Cyprus Presidency’s objective: a Europe of hope. Even a small step towards this will be considered a success. This is not a bold statement, we understand the limitations of a six-month period; however, we also understand that now is the time to focus on growth and promote job creation and opportunities especially for youth, who are the future of our Europe.
What are the priorities the Council will discuss during the Cyprus Presidency?
There are a number of priorities and important issues that will be discussed in the Council during the Cyprus Presidency, some of which are as follows:
- The Multiannual Financial Framework – 2014-2020 (and relevant financial programmes). The aim is to finalise negotiations and conclude with a fair and effective EU budget, creating growth and employment opportunities.
- Cohesion Policy: The aim of the Presidency will be to achieve as much progress as possible, since the conclusion of negotiations on the new regulatory framework for Cohesion Policy is crucial. This is of course subject to the completion of negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework.
- Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): The Cyprus Presidency will strive to take the discussions a step forward. The Presidency will make every effort to ensure that, by the time an agreement on the MFF is reached, work on the substance of the CAP reforms will be at an advanced stage, so as to allow for a swift conclusion thereafter.
- Economic Governance – Economic Crisis – Growth: The Cyprus Presidency will aspire to work on the new enhanced framework for economic governance and reinforce budgetary surveillance, so as to ensure fiscal stability. Moreover, the Cyprus Presidency will promote policies which will foster growth and bring about effectiveness, prosperity and jobs. Emphasis will be on areas that will result in growth creation, including the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2014-2020, the deepening of the single market, the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Employment Package and Youth Opportunities Initiative.
- Common European Asylum System: The aim is to achieve the establishment of the Common European Asylum System by the end of 2012, focusing on reinforcing practical cooperation between member states in protecting the rights of those in need of international protection.
- Single Market: We aspire to promote the deepening of the internal market, in order to revitalise the European economy, achieve social progress and support the needs of SMEs and consumers.
- Enlargement Package: We intend to promote the necessary processes/actions in order to move the policy of enlargement forward.
One of the greatest challenges are the negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework covering the period 2014-2020. How can the Cyprus Presidency contribute to the successful completion of these negotiations?
Building on the very good work by the Danish Presidency, we look forward to “inheriting” the dossier. We will work hard towards finalising the negotiations on the MFF. Our ambition is to agree on a fair and efficient EU budget that would strive towards delivering growth and enhancing competitiveness across the Union, creating employment opportunities, while in parallel taking into consideration the economic recovery of member states. However, the whole discussion of the current economic environment is difficult and requires the respect of the efforts by member states to reconcile fiscal consolidation with growth and the creation of jobs, while preserving social cohesion.
In the negotiations, the Cyprus Presidency will act as an honest broker. Good cooperation among the EU institutions, safeguarding the ‘community method’, is of utmost importance and will allow for a political agreement by the end of the year, in close collaboration with President Van Rompuy. Respecting the institutional balance, we will continue the current consultation process, as under the Polish and Danish Presidencies, and work constructively with the European Parliament.
The Cyprus Presidency will continue to use the negotiating box initially prepared by the Danish Presidency as the basic tool reflecting the outcome of the discussions. In order to push the negotiations forward, we plan to hold intensive bilateral meetings in Brussels in July, with member states, at both the political and the expert/technocrat level. The purpose of these is to discuss the priorities of each member state. At the same time, we plan to mobilise all preparatory bodies of the Council to lead up to a collective discussion at the July General Affairs Council. The MFF will be on the agenda of all General Affairs Councils under the Cyprus Presidency until the negotiations are concluded. In addition to the formal General Affairs Councils, we plan to hold an informal meeting of the ministers for European Affairs in Cyprus on 30 August, which will be devoted to the MFF. Our aim is to bring the dossier to the required level for political agreement to be reached at the October European Council. Should this not prove possible, discussions will continue at Coreper (Permanent Representatives Committee) and General Affairs Council level, in order to prepare the ground for concluding the dossier at the December European Council.
Overall, the debate on the MFF should not be confined to a mere discussion of member states’ net positions. It should look beyond that. The budget should strive towards delivering growth and competitiveness across the Union, as well as solidarity and fairness, thus contributing to social cohesion.
In relation to the main common policies of the MFF, such as the Cohesion Policy, the Common Agricultural and the Common Fisheries Policies and the Research and Innovation - Horizon 2020 policy, the Presidency will endeavour to achieve the greatest possible progress in the negotiations.
Which new measures would be useful to get the euro area out of the crisis, to enhance further economic governance, to ensure fiscal stability and to achieve higher levels of employment and sustainable growth?
A number of important measures have been taken with towards enhancing economic governance, and others are underway. The Presidency will focus on implementing the new enhanced framework of economic governance and will promote and implement measures deemed necessary to improve further economic governance and strengthen budgetary surveillance so as to ensure fiscal stability. The ´six pack´, the new intergovernmental treaty and the ´two-pack´ are important new parameters reforming the way fiscal policy is formulated and enhancing economic governance. As the Presidency, we are ready to move forward and achieve progress on new measures that might be decided on by the Council, the European Council and the Eurogroup regarding economic policy.
In addition to measures aiming at fiscal consolidation, it is of paramount importance to stimulate development and economic growth. It is acknowledged that growth is fueled by private sector initiatives. The return of macroeconomic stability and confidence in the economies’ public finances is of paramount importance to create room for private sector investments, achieve higher levels of employment and sustainable growth. As such, a number of other growth enhancing measures as I have mentioned before (e.g. the Single Market) will be promoted.
Overall, fiscal discipline in the eurozone and the EU in general, must be complemented by the promotion of a strong growth strategy. This is the way we suggest to tackling, in the most efficient way, the consequences of the current economic crisis. Austerity-only policies have not proven successful.
How to further deepen the Single Market, of which 2012 marks the 20th anniversary?
Since 1992, the Single Market has brought significant benefits and created new opportunities for European citizens and businesses. Despite the progress achieved so far, many unjustified obstacles still remain in some sectors of the economy with a negative impact on growth. However, the Single Market remains one of the driving forces behind the EU economy and one of the greatest assets in combating the economic crisis and improving competitiveness. The promotion of Single Market Act actions and possible new measures under the upcoming Single Market Act II are expected to restore confidence in the Single Market and help stimulate economic growth and social progress through the creation of a beneficial environment for consumers, workers and small enterprises. The Cyprus Presidency will focus, within the Single Market Act, on the following:
- Recognition of professional qualifications
- Collective management of intellectual property rights
- Alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes (ADR) and on online dispute resolution (ODR)
- Accounting standards
- Public procurement legislative package
- Guidelines for trans-European energy, transport and telecommunications networks
- Taxation of energy products
- Posting of workers
The Presidency will also initiate work on the Single Market Act II, expected to be adopted by the Commission after the summer to further advance efforts to unleash the full job and growth potential of the single market.
Do you expect that the Common European Asylum System could be completed by the end of 2012?
The Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is a commitment of member states under the Lisbon Treaty. This obligation is made even more explicit in the Stockholm Programme, whereby member states pledged to establish a common asylum system by 2012, at the latest.
The Polish and Danish Presidencies have made substantial progress on the various legislative elements necessary for the completion of CEAS. Cyprus’ role is crucial as now all efforts must be undertaken to reach an agreement by the end of 2012. However, we realise that this is highly demanding. There are still divergences in views among Union institutions and member states as to the degree and the speed of integration in the field of asylum. The Cyprus Presidency, therefore, will focus its efforts on wrapping up all pending issues, both in substance – differences still existing on the legislative texts – and in process – in completing negotiations with the European Parliament.
It must, however, be clear that this is no easy task, especially in view of the current financial crisis that forces member states to apply austerity measures across the board, including procedures related to asylum issues. Under these circumstances, the Presidency’ s task – to have in place by the end of the year a balanced legislation which will achieve “high protection standards” for those deserving them and “fair and effective procedures capable of preventing abuse” without extra administrative costs for member states – becomes an even a greater challenge. However, we believe that the right consensus will be reached, as all Member States and institutions realise that the completion of the CEAS as soon as possible is for the benefit of the Union as a whole.
Following the Arab Spring, your country seeks to bring Europe closer to its neighbours. What initiatives in this field will the Cyprus Presidency take?
The Cyprus Presidency will support High Representative Ashton’s efforts to enhance relations with the Union’s southern neighbours. The aim, of course, is to support the democratic transformation of our southern partners based on the “more for more” principle. Europe has to embark on a strategy to ensure pluralism and a multi-faceted relationship with its Mediterranean partners. Dialogue with the countries of the region on trade and economic relations, as well as on other issues of common concern – such as migration, mobility and security – will be further promoted.