Cypriot Presidency priorities as presented in EP committees
The priorities of Cyprus' Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers are being presented to European Parliament committees by Cypriot ministers this week. This compilation will be updated daily during this week.
The Cyprus presidency will make the best use of its geographical and cultural advantages to expand and deepen trade relations with the southern Mediterranean countries, the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Trade, Neoklis Sylikiotis, told the Committee on International trade on 11 July. He promised to concentrate on sectoral agreements and hoped to begin free trade negotiations with Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia soon..
MEPs wanted to know more about the presidency's strategy in trade relations with Japan and the US and asked to what extent Parliament's demands would be respected in both areas. Mr Sylikiotis confirmed that trade negotiations with these two countries were of the highest priority for the EU and said it was important to find ways to take Parliament's position on board before trade agreements were finalized.
One of the greatest concerns mentioned both by the minister and by MEPs was the current state of trade relations with Mercosur countries. The challenges posed by the protective measures of Argentina, the attitude of Brazil and developments in Paraguay deserved the most attention during the next six month of Cyprus presidency, they said.
Industry, Research and Energy
The "Connecting Europe Facility" is a top priority for the Cyprus presidency, which aims to reach a compromise in December 2012 on Trans-European Networks, the Minister for Communication and Works, Efthemios Flourentzou, told MEPs on Wednesday. Other priorities are to seek an early agreement on re-use of public sector information; to boost confidence in electronic transactions with draft laws on electronic identification and e-signatures; cybersecurity; and a leading role for the EU in space policy (with progress on Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) and Galileo).
Neoklis Sylikiotis, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, said his main goals for the next six months were to promote entrepreneurship, in particular the competitiveness of SMEs, to develop an industrial policy that creates new jobs and increases productivity, and to provide the EU with safe and accessible energy, with proposals on the safety of offshore activities and on renewable sources of energy.
Stavros Malas, Minister of Health, responsible for Research, said on Thursday that the 8th EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation – Horizon 2020 – was a key file. MEPs are calling for an increased budget for research and innovation to create the conditions for growth. The Cyprus presidency would also work on the European Institute of Technology (also part of the Horizon 2020 package), the promotion of a European research area and international cooperation, in particular with Euro-mediterranean countries, he said.
The Presidency will press ahead with plans to establish a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps, and hopes for a breakthrough this autumn, Foreign Affairs Minister Erato Kozakou−Marcoullis told the Development Committee on 10 July.
"Linking relief, rehabilitation and development" was seen by both Ms Kozakou−Marcoullis and MEPs as vital to maximize synergies between humanitarian, crisis response and development aid. MEPs highlighted problems stemming with differing disbursement procedures for humanitarian and development funds and stressed that more attention should be paid to risk and disaster prevention, rather than solely "sticking plasters on catastrophes".
MEPs also stressed that the EU and Member States should co-operate more closely in development aid work. The humanitarian crisis in Sahel region, where 18 million people face starvation was mentioned by MEPs and the Minister, as one of the areas requiring most attention in the coming 6 months.
Finding a compromise between MEPs and Council on enhancing Parliament's right of inquiry, starting discussions on European political parties with the aim of adopting legislation in time for the European elections and facilitating EU access to the European Convention on Human Rights are the Presidency top three constitutional affairs priorities, EU affairs minister Andreas D. Mavroyiannis told the Constitutional Affairs Committee on 12 July
Committee members also asked about the clash with the European Council following its decision to exclude Parliament from the revision of the Schengen evaluation system. Mr Mavroyiannis replied: "We're going to work very hard to find a way forward to respect EP's prerogatives", even though "member states think this competence has not been transferred to EU level".
Agriculture and rural development
Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – already well advanced in both Parliament and Council – will be the Cypriot presidency's key priority, the Minister for Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Environment, Sofoclis Aletraris, told agriculture MEPs on 10 July.
He said the new CAP must respond to the "changing needs, priorities and expectations of European farmers and citizens" and ensure "sustainable, productive and competitive agriculture able to meet food requirements at European and global level". The presidency would also focus on animal welfare, including animal transport, electronic tagging of bovine animals and voluntary labelling of beef products, and on the alignment of existing legislation with the Lisbon treaty.
The EU needs a strong, modern CAP with less red tape but this requires adequate funding, several MEPs said, stressing that the reform package could not be voted until the final figures for the EU's long-term budget were available. Other priorities should be the protein deficit in the EU, practical problems with sheep tagging, and the less-favoured and outermost regions, said MEPs.
Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and overcoming the impasse in the Council on multiannual management plans, while respecting Parliament's new powers under the Lisbon treaty, would top the Cypriot presidency's fisheries agenda, the Minister for Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Environment, Sofoclis Aletraris, told fisheries MEPs on 11 July. European citizens "expect us to manage fisheries for the longer term" and "to ensure a viable income for fishermen", he said.
It was vital to unblock the multiannual plans in the Council, said several MEPs, to ensure the sustainable management of fisheries and long-term income and stability for fishermen. Some MEPs pointed to sustainability as the way forward, saying the future CFP must be designed accordingly, while others reminded the minister that Parliament was co-legislator for the final shape of the reform and it was time the Council realised this.
A key Presidency priority is to achieve timely agreement on the new cohesion policy legislative package, deputy EU Minister Andreas Mavroyiannis told the Regional Development Committee on 11 July. MEPs underlined the need to proceed swiftly whilst insisting on full respect for Parliament's role as co-legislator in shaping the future policy architecture.
Important differences remain over capping allocations, "transition" regions and the future Connecting Europe Facility, stressed MEPs. They also asked the minister to give due consideration to the Mediterranean and sparsely-populated regions and highlighted the importance of involving regional and local authorities in decision making.
EU enlargement "is one of our top priorities" and "it can in no way finish with the accession of Croatia", Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis told the Foreign Affairs Committee on 10 July. The Presidency wishes to inject more dynamism into accession talks, particularly with Iceland. Although Turkey refuses to have contacts with the Cyprus Presidency, the Presidency would "apply the same conditions to it as to any other candidate country", he added.
Many MEPs asked the minister to put the very good relations of Cyprus with Arab Spring countries at the service of greater EU involvement in democratic transitions. The minister replied that Syria's President Assad should step down before direct confrontations erupt which would have spill-over effects on the region, starting with Lebanon. On the case of the Russian vessel shipping arms to Syria which refuelled in Cyprus, she said Cyprus had launched criminal proceedings against the captain, ship-owners and managing company.
Employment and social affairs
The posting of workers directive, designed to improve workers' mobility while maintaining decent working conditions, the directive to improve worker protection against electromagnetic fields and the social programmes under the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020 (European Social Fund, European Globalisation Adjusment Fund and the Social Change and Innovation Programme) will be key files, Labour and Social Insurance Minister Sotiroula Charalambous told the Employment and Social Affairs Committee on 10 July.
Job creation must be the most important priority, said Csaba Öry (EPP, HU). Alejandro Cercas (S&D, ES), expressed worries about the future of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, which, according to the legislative proposal, will help farmers suffering the effects of international trade agreements at the expense of redundant workers, he said. MEPs also called for adequate funding for EU social programmes.
Women's rights and gender equality
"A coordinated EU strategy to tackle violence against women is a key priority for the Presidency", Justice and Public Order Minister Loucas Louca told the Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee on 10 July. "We will try to promote 2015 as the year for combating violence against women", he added.
Labour and Social Insurance Minister Sotiroula Charalambous, focused on the effects of the current financial recession on women. "We will be investing in equality between men and women, which is crucial to achieve financial stability and make the EU more competitive and innovative", she said.
Other Presidency priorities include increasing the presence of women in decision-making positions, with the aim of raising it to 40% by 2020, and protecting victims of domestic violence.
Environment and public health
The handling of the recent H1N1 virus outbreak shows that the EU must cooperate better to manage cross-border health threats, Health Minister Stavros Malas told the Environment and Public Health Committee on 9 July. Several MEPs welcomed the "ambition" of the Presidency's programme for health, which sets out priorities for healthy ageing and innovation. The minister and MEPs also looked forward to the forthcoming review of legislation regulating medical devices, such as breast implants and replacement hips.
Minister for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment Sofoclis Aletraris, underlined Cyprus' commitment to drive forward the sustainable development agenda, despite rather limited outcomes from the Rio+20 summit. Water, climate and biodiversity were also debated on 10 July, ahead of further UN summits in Hyderabad and Doha, and MEPs discussed proposals that may be made on Cyprus' watch, for example to revise the 2020 CO2 reduction target or to reform emissions trading.
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
The asylum package and enhancing solidarity among member states in dealing with asylum applications are key priorities, Interior Minister Eleni Mavrou told the Civil Liberties Committee on 10 July. She also said that the Presidency will work closely with Parliament to reach agreements on the seasonal workers directive and the visa regulation.
Justice and Public Affairs Minister Loucas Louca said that concluding a Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreement with Canada and setting up an EU PNR system are crucial. Another key priority will be reforming governance of the Schengen area, on which profound disagreements remain between MEPs and EU ministers. "We hope to reach a conclusion on this as rapidly as possible", he said. Cyprus will also work to enlarge the Schengen area to Bulgaria and Romania, he added.
Simon Busuttil (EPP, MT), welcomed the ministers' emphasis on the need to increase solidarity on migration and asylum, and said he was confident that the Presidency wouldl be an "honest broker" in talks on Schengen. Sylvie Guillaume (S&D, FR), also said that the Presidency's approach to the asylum package was positive.
Timothy Kirkhope (ECR, UK), stressed the need to fight organized crime and terrorism, whereas Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA, NL), argued that the European Arrest Warrant must be reviewed because its current reliance on mutual trust among member states is "outdated".
"Small countries like mine have a need for more Europe and this means the need to adopt pending and new measures to complete the single market" Minister for Commerce, Industry and Tourism Neoklis Sylikiotis told the Internal Market Committee on 10 July.
MEPs backed Mr Sylikiotis on the need to implement the Single Market Act, but also pressed him for progress on recognising professional qualifications, modernising public procurement and improving consumer access to alternative dispute resolution. But given the complexity of today's public procurement rules, MEPs advised him not to sacrifice the quality of discussion just to get a speedy agreement on new ones.
The Presidency aims to reach a compromise on the future Trans-European networks, including sufficient funding through the "Connecting Europe Facility", both of which "contribute to deal with new challenges and the goals of the EU2020 strategy", Communications and Works Minister Efthemios Flourentzou told the Transport and Tourism Committee 10 July.
Mathieu Grosch (EPP, BE), expressed strong support for the 25 July "Road Safety Day" which encourages young people to discuss future road safety measures. Michael Cramer (Greens, DE), called for 30 km/h speed limits in urban residential areas. Gesine Meissner (ALDE, DE), welcomed plans to relaunch the "integrated maritime policy" at a ministerial conference on 8 October.
Culture and education
On 10 July Culture and Education Committee MEPs congratulated Minister George Demosthenous on the Presidency's ambitious priorities in this area. They asked that adequate funding be maintained for future EU programmes, and in particular those benefiting citizens.
MEPs urged the minister to push forward with Council negotiations for a compromise to retain the "trade marks" of EU programmes such as MEDIA, Grundtvig, etc. In the sports field, MEPs called for initiatives to penalise match-fixing and doping, as well as more concerted action to implement the EU list of people banned from sports stadiums.
Judicial training is a top priority for the Cypriot Presidency, Minister for Justice and Public Order Loucas Louca told the Legal Affairs Committee on 9 July. This resolution, which should target all legal practitioners, will enhance mutual trust across the EU.
Much like the Danish Presidency, the Cypriot Presidency will focus on creating a better Europe by effectively implementing the Stockholm programme.
Other key goals highlighted by Mr Louca include the conclusion of negotiations on the Brussels 1 regulation and on the proposal for a mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters, which seeks to protect victims of violence across the borders of the EU.
Almost all Legal Affairs Committee MEPs who took the floor quizzed Cyprus Minister for Commerce and Industry, Mr Neoclis Sylikiotis, on the European Council move to modify the deal done on the EU patent and called for a quick solution. Mr Sylikiotis replied: "I'm glad the European parliament decided last week to postpone the plenary vote, so legal services will have time to look at this and come up with feasible solutions after the summer break".
The minister also listed, as presidency priorities, further enforcement of intellectual property rights, achieving a first reading agreement on new transparency rules for large extractive companies and making progress on the new regulation on EU foundations.
Economic and monetary affairs
"Intergovernmental agreements are not the right way to deepen economic governance", said Cypriot finance minister Vassos Shiarly, presenting the Presidency's priorities to the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee on 9 July. MEPs focused on the recent EU summit, financial services legislation and the specific difficulties facing Cyprus' economy.
MEPs warned Mr Shiarly that the Presidency would need to work very hard indeed to close files on financial services, as some countries were proving highly intransigent on their positions. They also raised concerns that countries were already rowing back on their commitments made at the EU summit.
Explaining the situation of Cyprus, Mr Shiarly said that the "haircut" imposed on Greek bond creditors had severely hurt the Cypriot economy and that this was what had led to the country's request for financial assistance.