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Kornelios Korneliou: New Commission Must Address EU Citizens' Concerns, Cyprus’ European Affairs

Kornelios Korneliou: New Commission Must Address EU Citizens' Concerns, Cyprus’ European Affairs

Cyprus expects that the new European Commission, that will assume its duties on December 1st, will play its part so that European citizens feel safe in their countries and in the EU in general, and their concerns are effectively addressed, Cyprus’ Secretary General for European Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kornelios Korneliou, has told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA).

“We cannot afford not to change the things that need to be changed. There are huge challenges before us. A member state cannot tackle the migration crisis, the climate change and all the other issues which the planet and particularly the EU are facing today by itself,” Korneliou said in an interview with CNA.

 He went on to note that “the EU must become less introverted and more decisive on issues that are of concern to the European citizens, and has to take the lead on issues as multilateralism and climate change. This is the only way to address these issues effectively,” he underlined.

Invited to comment on the fact that the General Secretariat for European Affairs was set up only recently, 15 years after Cyprus’ accession to the EU, Korneliou said that “it took us 15 years to realize the benefits of the horizontal coordination. There are of course reasons why we did not manage to do this in 2004,” he said, adding that Cyprus joined the EU for political considerations as it seeks to end the Turkish occupation and the division of the island.

 “The benefits of the horizontal coordination were better understood during the Cyprus EU Presidency in 2012, however this practice lasted only for a few months as the Eurogroup’s decisions (for a ‘haircut’ on deposits in Cyprus) followed in March 2013. The EU is now dealing with more horizontal issues such as Brexit and climate change and more decisions are taken in Brussel. This makes a horizontal approach necessary in member-states, including an internal coordination among the various services,” Korneliou noted. 

He said that the General Secretariat for European Affairs is currently staffed with seven civil servants, five from the Foreign Ministry and two from the Ministry of Finance, while other eight servants will be seconded to the Secretariat from other Ministries and services. Moreover, he noted that the EU supports this project and has seconded one EU officer to the Secretariat for two years.

Invited to refer to the tangible benefits for Cypriot citizens by the establishment of the Secretariat, he noted that “the comprehensive management of the European issues facilitates the better and more effective promotion of our interests. The fact that Cyprus speaks with a single voice in the EU – and this is the role of the Secretariat – reinforces the Republic of Cyprus’ credibility. Therefore, Cyprus actively participates in the decision-making process in Brussels,” Korneliou said, adding that at the end of the day these decisions have an impact on Cypriot citizens and the state in general and that “in this way our interests are safeguarded.”

Asked about the future of the EU, in view of the challenges that the Union is currently facing, the Secretary General for European Affairs noted that during the last five years the EU unity and coherence were severely tested.

“All these issues have caused serious cracks in the European structure. Nevertheless, the outcome of the European elections was not as expected for the nationalists and the Eurosceptics. However, the messages of the elections have been well received by the new EU leadership. The EU must become less introverted and more decisive on issues that affect the European citizens and has to take the lead on issues as multilateralism and climate change. This is the only way to address effectively these challenges,” he added.

With regard to Brexit, Korneliou said that Cyprus wanted the UK to remain in the EU. “However, we respect the verdict of the British people and we are getting ready for an orderly or a no-deal Brexit. We are waiting for the results of December 12 elections and we will take it from there. If Prime Minister Johnson is the winner of the elections and fulfills his promises, we should expect an orderly Brexit by January 31,2020,” he noted.

Referring to the migration issue, Korneliou noted that “it is unfair that the responsibility lies with the front-line member states. The migration crisis has received disproportionate dimensions that underline the need for a comprehensive and collective response by the EU. This issue is among the priorities of the new European Commission President. A reform of the Common European Asylum System is needed. We participate in the discussions constructively but the responsibility must no longer lie only with the front-line member states,” he added.

Moreover, Korneliou welcomed the composition and the structure of the new European Commission that was approved by the European Parliament in Strasbourg, wishing good luck to the new Cypriot Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, and thanking the outgoing Cypriot Commissioner, Christos Stylianides, for his excellent work.

He noted that the new President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen has outlined her priorities which are consistent with the challenges the EU is facing today. We expect that the Commission will play its part so that all European citizens feel safe in their countries and in the EU in general, and their concerns are effectively addressed,” he added.

Korneliou also said that it is a paradox that while the UK is still a member of the EU no new British EU Commissioner has been appointed, noting that this is a signal that Brexit is coming.

Asked if he expects that something will change when the new Commission takes office, Korneliou said that “we cannot afford not to change the things that need to be changed. There are huge challenges before us. A member state cannot tackle the climate change and all the other issues which the planet and particularly the EU are facing today by itself,” he added.

“It is no coincidence that we have interventions as the one by the French President and the Franco-German proposal for changes in the way the EU is functioning. The new President of the European Commission has expressed her intention for a new conference on the Future of Europe that will begin in 2020 with a view to address the European citizens’ concerns,” he added.

Asked about the targeted measures of the EU against Turkey, due to the latter’s illegal activities in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone, Korneliou said that the Government of Cyprus has collected the evidence and is in contact with the competent EU institutions with a view to achieve the inclusion of natural and legal persons in the list of those targeted by those measures.

This is a process followed in Russia’s case as well, he noted, and underlined that this is the way that the EU is functioning. The evidence must be examined by the Legal Service of the Commission and the External Action Service and approved by the member states, he added.

He recalled that Cyprus had joined the EU for political considerations, “to reinforce our position towards Turkey, due to the ongoing occupation and division of the island,” since the Turkish invasion in 1974.

“We may not have achieved the settlement of the Cyprus problem, but the EU, through its active participation in the process for finding a solution to the Cyprus problem and through the decisions of the European Council and the Foreign Affairs Council, clearly underlines its support to the Republic of Cyprus,” Korneliou noted.

Asked about the impact of the EU on the people of Cyprus’ everyday life, he referred to the benefits that Cypriots enjoy thanks to Cyprus’ EU membership.

The Cypriot citizens can live and work in 28 member states, Cypriot university students can study at the universities of all these states through the Erasmus programme, the medium and small size enterprises can be financed, the researches can benefit from EU funding whereas Cypriot farmers through the common agricultural policy. There are so many benefits which sometimes are considered as self-evident, he added.

Asked to what extent Cyprus can as a small member state have an impact on decisions taken in Brussels, Korneliou said that Cyprus has a strong voice through its participation on an equal footing in the EU.

“This has also allowed us to reach a high level of cooperation with the countries in our region. We certainly have friends, which at the same time see us as the gate to the EU. Cyprus actively participates in the discussions taking place in Brussels and we are trying, without a hidden agenda, to promote our positions based on the general interest of the EU and of that of the Republic of Cyprus,” Korneliou added.

He said that 15 years after Cyprus’ accession to the EU, the people of Cyprus have realized that the EU membership is of pivotal importance for the country’s welfare, security and stability. “That said, I do not imply that we have covered fully the distance between Nicosia and Brussels,” he added.

Korneliou underlined that the main priority of the General Secretariat of European Affairs is to ensure that Cyprus speaks with a single voice in the EU, with consistency and continuity in the positions put forward, something which at the end reinforces its credibility.

He also noted that in this framework, regular meetings between Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides and the six Cypriot MEPs take place in full respect of their independence.

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