Thursday 31st May 2012
Andreas Mavroyiannis, Deputy Minister to the President of the Republic of Cyprus for European Affairs, talks to Marcus Papadopoulos about the impending Cyprus EU Presidency.
What is the symbolic importance of Cyprus holding the Presidency of the
Council of the European Union?
Cyprus will be assuming the Presidency of the Council of the EU for the first time
during the second half of 2012. Holding the rotating Presidency is consubstantial
to membership; it is a responsibility and a right of every Member State. Cyprus aims for a successful and results oriented Presidency, proving that it is a reliable and responsible member state, which can add value to the process of European integration. Thus, this experience is an important milestone for the Republic, as it is an opportunity to contribute in achieving the visions and objectives of the Union and highlight Cyprus’ role in the EU and enhance its image and credibility.
What level of preparations has been undertaken for holding the Presidency?
Preparations are well underway – the first steps were taken in 2009 – and I am
confident that Cyprus will stand ready to take over the helm from Denmark this
July. The preparations have been multifaceted, as they took place at different
levels, namely political, administrative, technical and logistical.
Firstly, in order to undertake this challenging task, a new political and administrative structure has been in place and took its final shape in October 2011 so as to guarantee the smooth coordination of the preparations for and the management of the Presidency, as well as effective and swift decision-making. Those include the establishment of a Ministerial Committee for European Affairs, the creation of the post of Deputy Minister to the President for European Affairs, as well as the Cyprus EU Presidency Secretariat, whose main task is to ensure the overall effective coordination of preparations.
As it has been decided that the Cyprus Presidency will be Brussels-based, the role of the Permanent Representation of Cyprus in Brussels is crucial, as the majority of the chairpersons have been placed in Brussels, at the heart of the law and policy-making. A meticulously developed training strategy offered specialised training to all parties involved.
The successful completion of the 18 month Programme with Cyprus’ Trio partners, Poland and Denmark and its approval by the Council in June 2011, was the first major undertaking in the policy preparations. Currently, the six month programme of the Presidency is being drafted, through an ongoing, interactive process between the Cyprus EU Presidency Secretariat, the Ministries, as well as the EU institutions. The priorities, as well the strategic management of the dossiers, has been defined and are going to be updated until the last minute in order to take into account any latest developments.
Last, but not least, the greater part of logistical preparations has been completed, so as to accommodate for the fifteen Informal Council meetings and about 180 meetings that will take place in Cyprus. The Conference Centre “Filoxenia” in Nicosia has been renovated, so as to host the majority of meetings that will take place in Cyprus and the planning for accommodation, transport, security, interpretation, gifts and other logistics has been completed.
How will the EU and Cyprus benefit from the Cyprus Presidency?
The Presidency provides a unique opportunity for Member States to contribute to the process of European integration. In doing so, Cyprus will enjoy lasting benefits from this experience, such as the attainment of greater expertise on EU Affairs and the modernisation of the public sector. It is also an opportunity for Cyprus to enhance its presence in the EU and enjoy visibility not only on the European, but also on the international scene. The distance from Brussels will be bridged, bringing the Cypriot
citizen closer to Europe and, vice versa, the European citizens closer to Cyprus, whereas the involvement of NGOs and the private sector in the Presidency will further enhance the role of the civil society. Simultaneously, the position of Cyprus as a strategic partner in the Eastern Mediterranean can be consolidated. Parallel and
secondary to those benefits, the visit of many Europeans to Cyprus, within the framework of Presidency events, will give the opportunity to promote Cyprus as a quality tourist destination as well as a financial services and business centre.
On the other hand, the EU can also benefit from the Cyprus Presidency, as Cyprus being a small member state, with not many intense national interests, is in a better position to act as an honest broker and be a successful mediator, always bearing in mind the interests of the EU and its citizens. That becomes even more important
for the progress of negotiations for important dossiers, such as the Multi-annual Financial Framework 2014-2020. Simultaneously, Cyprus, with a geostrategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean and traditional ties with some of its Arab neighbours, could provide a useful perspective in the EU’s efforts to promote pluralism, democratisation reforms and in the stabilisation of the fragile situation
in the Arab world following the Arab Spring.
Is there a precedent that the Cypriot Government would like to set once its Presidency comes to an end?
We aspire to work towards a better Europe, a European Union more relevant to its citizens and to the world. I think we can all agree that what matters is to have a better Europe; meaning a more effective Europe, contributing to sustainable growth
and job creation through efficient and integrated policies; a Europe which is part of the solution and perceived as such, working on the basis of the underlying principle of solidarity, committing itself to a better future; a Europe enhancing its role on the
international scene. All efforts will be directed to bequeath a better Europe to the younger generations. That is what we want to focus on, a Europe of hope.
How much of a challenge is holding the Presidency especially at a time when there are serious economic problems plaguing the EU?
These are difficult times for the Union and this makes the task of holding the Presidency even more of a challenge. The foundations of the EU are being tested by the sovereign debt and financial crisis; however the EU is determined to address the problems that caused the crisis and has focused on necessary measures to enhance
economic governance and exit from the crisis. However, holding the Presidency now will allow Cyprus to place emphasis on the social challenges which have occurred and promote effective integrated policies that will stimulate growth and enhance social cohesion.
On the other hand, it is clear that assuming the Presidency is a demanding and costly task, even more so as Cyprus is a relatively new and small Member State of the EU, with a respectively small public administration. The austerity measures at national level meant that the Presidency would have to take place with limited budgetary resources, which made the preparation even more strenuous. Despite those limitations, we have prepared efficiently and in a way to ensure that the quality of our Presidency will not be undermined.
What are the priorities of the Presidency, how have these been determined and what are the strategies for achieving these?
The first identification of the most important issues that Cyprus will deal with was carried out in cooperation with our Trio partners, Poland and Denmark and the Council Secretariat, and set out in our common 18 month Programme. The majority of the priorities have been determined on the basis of the inherited agenda and it must be said, that Cyprus will deal with a heavy agenda, which includes very important dossiers.
One of the most challenging issues that the Presidency will be called to handle is the Multiannual Financial Framework for the period 2014 -2020. The Presidency is committed to working hard towards the aim of finalising the MFF negotiations and aims to attain the greatest possible progress in the related policies and financial programmes. Of course, the Presidency will promote any further measures deemed necessary to counter the effects of the crisis, implementing the new enhanced
framework of economic governance, supporting the creation of a financial firewall and promoting the legislative framework in relation to financial services.In light of the 20th anniversary of the internal market in 2012, which is a key component for growth, the initiatives of the Single Market Act will be promoted.
Special emphasis will also be given to the establishment of the Common European Asylum System by the end of 2012, contributing to the creation of a common area of protection, based on the principles of solidarity and of equitable burden sharing among all Member States.
Addressing the demographic challenges in the context of the Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations and promoting the Europe 2020 Strategy goals is also on our agenda.
Furthermore, the Presidency will carry on any relevant actions for the re-launching of the Integrated Maritime Policy, the development of the Trans– European Networks of transport, telecommunications and energy and the promotion of green growth, research and innovation.
The promotion of the Southern Dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy, the enlargement process and the progress on the Union’s development commitments will contribute to the enhancement of Europe’s role in the world.
Cyprus aims to be a results-oriented Presidency, and in order to achieve this, mechanisms have been implemented to ensure the strategic management of each dossier. The aim is to set a strategic goal for every file before the Presidency and give to the chairpersons the necessary mandate so as to be able to progress negotiations and reach an agreement where possible. To that end, we are in close cooperation with the EU institutions and we will aim to achieve rigorous cooperation with the
European Parliament, a key partner for every Presidency. Most importantly, we
will maintain an objective and neutral stance so as to achieve compromises,
contributing to the general interest of the Union.
How will the economic concerns of working people and small businesses across the EU be addressed and met?
The Presidency realises that now is the time for growth and the creation of job opportunities. That is part of our greater ambition to work towards a more competitive and effective Europe, which will do more for its citizens, and for small business. SMEs form the backbone of the European economy and it is necessary to ensure security and growth for them. The EU has launched numerous proposals aiming to enhance competitiveness and growth. As I have already mentioned, key issues which will be promoted during the Presidency are the initiatives of the Single
Market Act, which includes, inter alia, proposals for facilitating SMEs access to finance, reducing the regulatory and administrative constraints, simplifying accounting standards and giving to venture capital funds a passport, so they can invest in SMEs in other member states. The overall aim is the creation of a simplified, attractive and business friendly environment, promoting the competitiveness of SMEs.
Special emphasis will be given to promote youth employment, as it is also one of the main concerns of the European Council. That priority will address issues related to training opportunities, quality employment, working conditions, as well the
matching of the qualifications and expectations of young people with the needs of the economy and of the enterprises. Europe needs to find the means to unleash the large
range of unexplored potential which lies throughout the Europe, as this is necessary to stimulate growth.
Are there any unique factors to Cyprus, such as cultural ones, which will help guide and enhance the Presidency?
Well, filoxenia, which is one of the traits of the Cypriot people that we take pride in, is one of the fundamental concepts of our Presidency. The official translation in English for filoxenia is hospitality. However, a simple translation is not adequate, as it does not do justice to the concept, whose main element is generosity to the visitor.
Our vision is to have a filoxeni (hospitable) Presidency, for a filoxenos (hospitable) topos (a hospitable Presidency for a hospitable place), not only within the typical sense of the word, but rather as part of our vision for our country, of our forethought for our Presidency, of our hope for Europe. Filoxenos topos is part of our aspiration
of a European Union more relevant to its citizens and in the world. A hospitable
place for enterprises, ideas, services, innovation, technology, trade, culture, where growth flourishes; a place where values and principles such as freedom, justice, democracy, cultural diversity and pluralism, respect, tolerance and equality prevail, a space where the young feel welcome and embraced.
What foreign investment opportunities may arise for Cyprus stemming from the Presidency?
Cyprus will receive European and international exposure during its Presidency. We aspire that this exposure, as well as the promotion of the idea of a filoxenos topos, will attract further foreign investment. Cyprus is not only a prime European, but also
an international business and financial centre, with quality telecommunications
infrastructure, as well as a highly qualified and educated labour force. That aspect of Cyprus is expected to become visible to even more people during the Presidency, as the inflow of visitors from all sectors of the economy will have the opportunity to experience this more closely. Cyprus’ strategic location at the crossroads of Europe,
North Africa and the Middle East has already gained the interest of foreign investors as it makes it an ideal base for international projects.
Moreover, the role of Cyprus as one of the leading third-party ship management centres in the world will also be highlighted; this will most likely open further opportunities for foreign investment in this field, enhancing the islands image as a fully-fledged shipping centre and maritime nation.
Last, but not least, Cyprus is known for its beauty, climate and diversity of landscape and it is therefore possible that foreign investment in relation to tourism will be attracted-tourism including different forms, such as business and conference tourism, to sports, eco-tourism and medical tourism.
Finally, in a few words, what can the EU and its population expect from the Cyprus Presidency?
Humble and modest, Cyprus is yet ambitious, to bring a special sensitivity and flavour to EU policies, in particular when it comes to the social dimension; to contribute, towards a better Europe, increasing solidarity and effectiveness; standing by the values and principles underpinning the European project as conceived by its founding fathers; offering hope in adversity; and acting towards achieving the visions and objectives of the Union. Cyprus’ objective is to act in a purely Presidential manner, acting as an honest broker, in spite of the probable persistence of its national problem.