VP Šefčovič calls for MFF agreement by year-end
Member States must agree on the next long-term EU budget by the end of this year or risk seriously undermining Europe's efforts to stimulate growth and jobs. This was the stark message from Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič at the informal general affairs council (GAC) hosted by the Cyprus Presidency in Nicosia on Thursday.
Speaking at the start of a lengthy debate on the multi-annual financial framework (the seven-year EU budget from 2014-2020), V-P Šefčovič stressed that a deal by the end of 2012 was, vital. "We need to support growth and investment as part of our response to the economic crisis and an early decision on the MFF would be a powerful expression of our determination to get the EU back on a growth path," he told the ministers and state secretaries responsible for European affairs.
But he warned that while the European Commission was in favour of a quick agreement, this did not mean that it was prepared to slash the budget proposals, in line with calls from some national capitals. "The Commission cannot support any suggestion to adjust the total level of expenditure downwards," he said, adding that "the Commission's proposals are already relatively modest overall and cutting them further cannot be defended as an end it itself". What was needed, he said, was a discussion on how to better target the available funds on priority policy areas, and how to make the overall budge procedure more flexible, allowing funds to be transferred between the various headings if necessary.
At the press conference following the debate, which also included representatives from the European Parliament, V-P Šefčovič said there was a clear willingness among member states to find a solution by the end of the year. An extraordinary meeting of the European Council in November, announced by Council President Herman Van Rompuy, will also help move the debate forward in the hope of reaching a final decision at the December summit.
The second day of V-P Šefčovič's trip to Nicosia focused on the bi-communal issue. The Slovak Commissioner lent his support to an event organised by the Slovak Ambassador to Cyprus, Anna Tureničová, who has long been a facilitator of discussions between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
In his opening speech to the event, V-P Šefčovič urged both communities to continue discussions and to find a lasting solution to their differences. "Unfinished business on Cyprus is becoming unfinished business in the EU. It is against the interests of both communities and the European Union as a whole," he said. "The worst thing to happen would be to stop talking to each other. Only through a continuation of the direct dialogue between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots can the Cyprus problem be solved. A solution is possible, but unpopular compromises are necessary on both sides; a perfect deal will never be obtained. Remember that the benefits of reunification will outweigh the costs of any compromise you may have to make."
The event, which included statements from 12 different political groups from both communities, also highlighted a number of positive examples of bi-communal projects which V-P Šefčovič said showed how reconciliation could be achieved in Cyprus.