Juncker appeals for solution, pledges funding
European Commission President JeanClaude Juncker concluded a two-day visit to Cyprus on Friday and appealed to communities on both sides of the divide to keep up with the present momentum of peace talks and reach a solution the soonest possible.
He said that he hopes to visit a reunified Cyprus next year.
On Thursday, he told both community leaders that the Commission and the entire European family would stand by the side of Cypriots when a solution is reached and would not abandon them when the burden of the high cost of reunification is raised.
Addressing members of parliament before his final meeting with President Nicos Anastasiades and his departure from the island, the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg appealed to politicians to seize the moment and not leave it to the next generation
He referred to family members he lost to concentration camps during World War II and said that if Europe could make peace within itself, “why should it not be impossible to do it here”.
“The past should not stand in the way of progress,” he said.
In his address to the plenary, House President Omirou welcomed Juncker and his pledge on Thursday for more active EU involvement to help Cyprus reach a political settlement, and his reappointment of Pieter Van Nuffel as the Commission President’s personal representative for Cyprus.
On Thursday, Juncker praised Anastastasiades and the Cypriot people for their commitment to the economic recovery programme, noting that “tough decisions and commitment paid off in Cyprus, as they did in Ireland, Portugal and Spain,” and expressing hope that “others will take note”, possibly a hint towards Greece.
Cyprus is expected to conclude its 3-year “bailout” programme in March 2016 with the present rate of cutbacks in the public sector and a controlled fiscal budget suggesting the government will not fully utilise the EUR 10 bln financial assistance package. But technical teams from the Troika of international lenders (EC, ECB, IMF) visiting the island this week, as well as the Heads of Mission arriving on Friday, are expected to express serious concern about the slow progress in public sector reform, such as privatisations of power and telecom utilities and deleveraging of state assets, autonomy of the state hospitals and introduction of a national health scheme, and the wider reform of the civil service linked to meritocracy and slower pay increase.
In statements after his meeting in Nicosia with President Anastasiades on Thursday, Juncker said that “Cyprus found itself in a difficult economic position in 2013 but the Cyprus I am visiting today is very different. The economy is beginning to grow, the financial sector has stabilised and you are again ready to take advantage of the opportunities of the future,” he noted.
He said that he saw Cyprus as “a beacon of stability and European values in a troubled part of the world.”
Juncker, accompanied by his “good friend” and Commissioner Christos Stylianides, said that this was his first official bilateral visit to an EU member state since he became President of the Commission, noting that he feels very close to Cyprus by heart and by personal friendship with Anastasiades.
The Cypriot President said that discussions included how Cyprus could benefit from the European Fund for Strategic Investment “which paves the way for much needed new investments in member states” and underlined Cyprus’s significant investment needs.
He said that he and President Junker share the view that a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem would benefit all parties, the EU and the wider region.
“Turkey’s role in reaching a settlement is vital, and we expect that Turkey will contribute concretely to the efforts to reach a settlement,” he added.
Referring to the Cypriot economy, Anastasiades said that “we have successfully returned to the international markets and, since the beginning of July, we participate in the ‘quantitative easing’ programme of the European Central Bank.”
He also said that they discussed developments in the energy sector, that he informed Juncker on the latest developments in the hydrocarbons and energy sector in Cyprus, and discussed with him the different energy projects and proposals in the region, as well as the possibilities support from European funds.
In his comments on CyBC radio on Friday morning, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said that “Juncker has always been positive to Cyprus, and even Greece.”
“Need I remind you that on that terrible night of March 13, 2013, Luxembourg was the only state that took a positive and sympathetic stance towards Cyprus. I remember him at the (European) Parliament as well, where he spoke the previous day a Prime Minster of Luxembourg very supportively of Cyprus.
Asked if things would have been different has Juncker been Eurogroup chairman, a position from where he stepped down a few months earlier, Kasoulides said “they might not have been, but when somebody handles such matters with sympathy, that do not insult, and do not humiliate, that is what matters.”
The Foreign Minister expressed his disappointment from his partners in the EU, especially in the Eurozone, because as regards Greece “we do not accept the way matters were handled and the attitude mainly towards Greece. The result may have been the same, but at least with some respect.”
As regards the EU’s increased role in the UN-mediated peace talks, Kasoulides said that Van Nuffel’s role would be to liaise with the EC and Juncker and to ensure that the EU norms and the acquis is respected and implemented in any future solution.
Referring to Mustafa Akinci’s comments that the EU’s role would not be a primary one in reaching a framework agreement, he said that any solution would have to confirm with EU rules and principles.
As regards Juncker’s comments on Thursday after a joint lunch with Akinci and Anastasiades that the long-standing dispute over the protected designation of origin (PDO) of the island’s native goat’s cheese, the ‘halloumi’ or ‘hellim’, had reached some breakthrough, Kasoulides said that an independent control mechanism has been decided which will be appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture and would inspect the cheese on both sides.
“This is about how it will be and through the ‘Green Line regulations’ (of trade between both communities across the divide) the legal basis will be stated which will allow the commercial use of the product. This will be discussed at the next states” of the talks between the bicommunal technical groups and the two leaders.