EU leaders hail ‘successful’ Cyprus Presidency


A two-day EU summit ended today (14 December) without major decisions, but with a feeling of gradual return to normal after the worst of the crisis. It also provided an occasion for leaders to congratulate Cyprus on its success in what appears to have been a productive presidency.

The summit ended around noon as planned with the adoption of conclusions which were largely agreed beforehand. Most of the heavy lifting had been done the previous night, when finance ministers clinched a deal on banking supervision.

>> Read: Hollande: EU confidence can now return

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told the press that in today's meeting leaders discussed the future of European defence policy and tasked EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton with developing proposals and reporting on them at the latest by September 2013.

The second part of the meeting was dedicated to the deteriorating situation in Syria, about which he said leaders were “appalled”.

Van Rompuy also praised the president of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, for the “excellent cooperation” between his office and the Cypriot EU presidency.

“It was the country's first presidency since its accession, fully aimed at the Union's common interest,” he said.

Perhaps strangely, he praised Cypriot diplomats for their work in the ongoing negotiations over the EU budget for 2014-2020. The Cypriot budget proposal had been met with a lot of criticism.

“It was indispensable work, even if we will only reach the final deal early next year,” said Van Rompuy, avoiding specifying a concrete day or month for the conclusion of budget talks.

>> Read: Cyprus' EU budget deal rejected by Commission, Parliament

‘Our beloved Ithaca’

The Council president gave credit to Cyprus for helping give birth to an EU-wide patent, after the European Parliament voted on Tuesday in favour of the plan, ending what Van Rompuy called “a 40-year-long Odyssey”.

“Even if we do not know for sure on which Mediterranean island the historic Odysseus lived, for Europe, in the patent case, our beloved 'Ithaca' clearly is Cyprus,” he exclaimed.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso also strongly praised Christofias and his team for their “dedication and hard work”, saying this effort took place while the country faced a “challenging” economic situation. Indeed, Cyprus assumed its EU presidency while readying a bailout bid to salvage its banking system, strongly affected by the Greek crisis.

>> Read: Cyprus readies presidency plan, and bailout bid

Barroso also cited other achievements of the Cyprus Presidency as “especially important” – the Single Supervisory Mechanism, Schengen governance and the common asylum system.

Speaking trough an interpreter, Christofias said the presidency had been a “very difficult trial” for his country, but said his team thought they had managed to succeed. He thanked the EU institutions for their assistance, saying it was very precious for a country assuming its first EU stint.

The Cypriot president singled out maritime policy as one area where he was particularly proud of progress made.

“With the Limassol Declaration, we have given a new dynamism to the huge possibilities and opportunities that arise from marine and maritime activities in creating new employment,” he said.

He also stressed as a “success” what he called the “timely agreement” for the 2013 EU budget, as well as the agreement achieved the night before the summit on the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) for the future banking union.

Christofias was asked about the state of play on bailout negotiations between Cyprus and the Troika of negotiators – which consists of the EU Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He said his country had arrived at an agreement “in principle” with the Troika. The agreement will be signed, he said, after Nicosia determines the exact amount that its banks need for recapitalisation. This will happen in the middle of January, he said.

Chrisofias, who is the only communist amongst the EU leaders, said the negotiation had been difficult, as they had touched upon many "social conquests” which would favour workers and the Cypriot people in general.

The government, he insisted, beared no responsibility for the situation. The responsibility lay squarely with the banks and their supervisory authority which had given no indication of the imminent danger, he insisted.

Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004 and became a eurozone member in 2008, holds the EU presidency through 31 December.

The entire island of Cyprus is officially EU territory, but the country is divided. Turkey, an EU candidate, doesn’t recognise the Republic of Cyprus and has occupied the northern part of the island since 1974.

The Turkish intervention was a response to a coup d’état on 15 July 1974 by the Greek military junta and a move to unite the island with Greece. On 20 July the Turkish army invaded the island with 30,000 people. Three days later, a cease-fire was agreed and by then 37% of the island had been taken over by the Turks and 180,000 Greek-Cypriots had been evicted from their homes in the north.

Cyprus is heavily exposed to the Greek crisis and needs to salvage its banking system.

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