Cyprus is a small country, member of the EU since 2004. As it will preside over the EU’s destiny during the next six months, it is the opportunity to get to know the Member State that is positioned most East. In order to do so, “Au Café de l’Europe” has decided to interview a man whose role is vital to the success of this EU Presidency: His Excellency Kornelios Korneliou, Permanent Representative of Cyprus to the EU.
Blog: Let’s start with Cyprus’ history and culture: it was part of the Ottoman and British Empires, it has close tights to Greece and is near the Turkish coast. So, Cyprus is at a crossroad. How does that influence the Cypriot culture? Can one describe Cyprus as multicultural?
K. Korneliou: There is no doubt that Cyprus is a multicultural society, this can be seen just by looking at the island’s history through the ages. Today, in Cyprus, as in many other European countries, demographics illustrate a very vivid multiethnic and multicultural society. It is in a way natural that Cyprus’s high standard of living and, of course, the good weather attracts many people from all over the world. Despite the influence of many cultures, one characteristic of Cyprus remains untouched: it is a really hospitable place!
Blog: Cyprus’ geographical position makes it an ideal EU Member State to care about the relationship between the EU and other Mediterranean countries, be it those involved in the Middle East conflicts or those experiencing the “Arab Spring”. What does Cyprus intend to do on this topic, during its EU presidency?
K. Korneliou: One of the priorities of the Cyprus Presidency of the EU is to actually bring Europe closer to its neighbours, emphasising the southern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy, in order to enhance relations with Mediterranean partners while ensuring pluralism and a multi-faceted relationship. The traditionally excellent political and economic relations between Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa allow Cyprus to act as an honest and impartial liaison between the EU and its southern neighbours. Cyprus hopes to play a constructive and supportive role in the EU’s efforts for dialogue with the countries of the region, on trade and economic relations, as well as other issues of common concern, such as migration, mobility and security, the promotion of human rights and the fulfilment of the democratic aspirations of the populations of the Arab Spring countries, working towards this end, in close cooperation with HR Ashton and the European External Action Service.
Blog: Everyone knows the difficult relationship with Turkey. Has the EU membership enabled an evolution? Does Cyprus look at Germany as a model of reconciliation?
K. Korneliou: Despite Turkey’s expressed intention to freeze relations with the EU during the Cyprus presidency we are committed to exert every effort for progress with regards to all the items under the overall Enlargement dossier. Guided by the principles of equal treatment of all candidates and conditionality, the Cyprus presidency will spare no effort to advance the accession process of all candidates, including Turkey. Enlargement policy has been a catalytic transformative tool for many decades and as such it will also benefit Turkey, positively contributing to the process of democratisation, peace and security of Europe’s south-eastern neighbourhood. Given the political situation in Cyprus and the fact that Turkey is a close neighbour, the advancement of the accession negotiations of Turkey will undoubtedly be beneficial for Cyprus as well.
Presidency’s interaction with Turkey will remain within the framework of its status as a candidate country, aiming at progress but at the same time being strict about the need for the candidate to respond with no further delay to all pending obligations, including the Cyprus related obligations. Respect, by the candidate, of the institutional order and rules of the Union, is a sine qua non, no matter who is presiding the Council. With regards to the Cyprus problem, the Government repeatedly expressed its intention to continue with the talks between the two communities within the UN Framework, during the six months presidency, demonstrating our willingness to reach a solution on the agreed basis, as soon as possible. All previous historical experience, in this respect, could be proved useful, nevertheless, what we should bear in mind is that in the case of Cyprus the long standing division of the island has been the result of foreign invasion, continuation of a military occupation and violation of basic human rights of all Cypriots, Greek or Turkish.
Blog: Let’s address economic topics. Cyprus is asking the EU and Russia for financial help. Why asking Russia, in addition to the EU? And what conditions do you hope to negotiate with the other Member States?
K. Korneliou: Given that Cyprus has been cut-off from the international financial markets since last year, in order to cover its financing needs, it enquired bilateral loan from third countries, with which Cyprus has traditionally had and still has very good relations. These enquiries were put forward well before Cyprus applied for financial assistance from its EU partners and the IMF. However, in the meantime, there was the June 30th deadline, set by the European Banking Authority, for banks’ recapitalisation. As the second largest banking group in Cyprus has not managed to raise the required capital on its own, the government had to intervene swiftly in order to protect the financial system’s stability and to contain the risks to the Cypriot economy, notably those arising from the negative spill over effects through its financial sector, due to its large exposure in the Greek economy. Currently, the Cypriot government works closely with the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF in order to identify the country’s financing needs and the programme’s main parameters.The details of the loan programme, including size and conditionality, will be determined after a thorough assessment of the challenges by the institutions concerned. The design of the programme will primarily focus on the financial sector, while, in parallel, it will take into consideration social cohesion and the growth model of the Cyprus economy including the island’s international business environment. Cyprus wishes also to incorporate into it, lessons learnt from other EU Member States where a similar programme has been applied.
Blog: What is Cyprus’ stance about the requirements of more fiscal discipline, a priority for some Member States, and about the call, by other States, for more solidarity?
K. Korneliou: The economic crisis has underlined the need for further effectiveness of policies and measures of the Union. The approach for the recovery of European economies should comprise of both fiscal consolidation and sustainable economic growth measures. The Presidency will seek to work on the new enhanced framework of economic governance and reinforce budgetary surveillance, so as to ensure fiscal stability. It is of utmost significance that the regulatory framework of financial services is strengthened through the implementation of measures for greater market transparency, for the protection of consumers and investors. The EU needs to recover from the crisis and action needs to be taken that will stimulate growth. In this respect the monitoring of the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy is very important for the Cyprus Presidency.
Blog: One of the hottest topics will be the multiannual financial framework (2014-2020). Federalists, like us, call for an important European budget with own resources. What is Cyprus’ opinion about this?
K. Korneliou: The negotiations for the new Multiannual Financial Framework are the key issue that will be dealt with during the Cyprus Presidency. We are seeking to reach a political agreement that will contribute to economic, social and territorial cohesion. The Presidency will work towards the finalization of the negotiations and the completion of a fair and effective EU budget. The MFF is an opportunity to agree on a budget that will contribute to growth and sustainable development, promote effective policies, increasing EU’s competitiveness and creating more jobs.
Blog: Which achievements do you hope to reach during this EU presidency?
K. Korneliou: The Cyprus Presidency is aiming to contribute to the coherence and continuity of the EU agenda and to achieve the visions and objectives of the EU for a better future for its citizens. We need and we want to have an agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework since our number one priority is to exit the crisis. The idea is to work towards a better Europe, creating a Union more relevant to its citizens and the world. A place which can actually offer a positive outlook to the citizens of Europe, especially the younger generations, assuring them that the troubles of today can indeed be overcome and that a brighter future lies ahead.
Blog: A last question: do you think the EU, and especially the Euro area, will be in better shape in 6 months?
K. Korneliou: Yes, I do sincerely think so! All EU political leaders have repeatedly expressed their commitment and dedication in doing whatever it takes to protect the achievements of the last 60 years of EU enlargement and integration. All Euro Area political leaders have repeatedly affirmed their unfaltering commitment and determination to do whatever it takes to protect the euro. As Harry Truman said, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination, and unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” Given the determination expressed by EU political leaders, with some courage and imagination in the next 6 months, EU and especially the euro area will be in a better shape.