Friday, 28/2/2020 | 10:22 UTC+0
Libyan Newswire

Remarks by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the joint press conference with Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta

Joseph, thank you.

I am happy to be back in Malta. It is the sixth time I am visiting this marvellous country. I remember the second time before last time, I was campaigning in this country against the Socialists, against the Prime Minister – I won. You are a local winner, I am a global winner. But we have the best relations – professional and personal, personal relations between those being in charge of European affairs are more important than people normally think. And I have built with Joseph an excellent personal and professional relation.

The professional part of this is as important as the other one, and we were preparing together the first Maltese Presidency. Malta has now been a member of the European Union for 13 years; it is the first time that Malta is in the chair of the Presidency. I had that chance – if it is a chance – four times in my life, and so I know how heavy the duties are. And we, as the Commission, have the impression and the knowledge indicating that the Maltese Government has prepared this Presidency in an excellent way. We noted that when the Prime Minister was visiting Brussels back in November last year, and we have seen today in our contacts with the Ministers in charge that Malta is best prepared for this Presidency. We are very much on the same line, swimming in the same channel, swimming in the same direction. The six overarching priorities of the Maltese Government are fitting into the programme of the Commission and of the three institutions we have concluded the other day in Strasbourg.

We are most interested in seeing the Maltese Government achieving further progress as far as the migration issue is concerned. This is of vital importance. And I am quite confident that the Prime Minister and his team will allow us to make the progress which is desperately needed with proposals to be connected with the work of the outgoing Slovak Presidency. And I am quite confident that on the internal side and on the external side of this dramatic problem progress will be achieved. We will try, together with our Maltese friends, to have the border and coast control, where all the relevant decisions have been taken, being in a position to be more workable. We have 800 people on the ground, mainly on the Bulgarian-Turkish border and we have to make sure that Member States are delivering on their commitments as far as the European presence on the Mediterranean side is concerned.

I am happy that the Maltese Government – more than Presidencies before – is heavily insisting on the social dimension of the Internal Market and of the Economic and Monetary Union. We are confident that we can work together when it comes to the putting into place of the pillar of the social rights. We do think that the Malta Summit, the Valletta Summit, of 3 February has crucial importance, not only because this is a summit leading to the Rome Summit by the end of March, but also because it is of crucial importance that on all the other issues the European Union is delivering in a better and more performant way than this was the case until now.

We are leaving Malta in a good mood. But I am leaving Malta early tomorrow morning for Geneva – Cyprus reunification. That is a different issue, but I would like to say here that I do think that time has come to reunite the island. The two leaders of the two communities were doing an excellent job and I hope that we will be able to conclude in a positive way the Geneva talks tomorrow. I had Prime Minister Tsipras on the phone this morning; I will have the French President on the phone this night. And I hope that we will be able to conclude this difficult dossier in the next coming hours and days.

Questions and Answers

Q1 Today, the European Commission announced that the new gas power station project is in line with EU state aid rules. Is this a coincidence that the decision was announced today on the first day of the Maltese Presidency?

President Juncker: I have to say that I am never interfering in competition cases. This is a matter for Commissioner Vestager and she is acting on her own – she is in total autonomy when it comes to these questions. I am told that the undertaking you are referring to is completely in line with the basic state aid rules of the European Union, and so that is fine for us. Is it a coincidence? I do not know, because I am never interfering in this kind of things.

Q2 You both said that migration would be on the top of the agenda for the next six months, but the most difficult point is what you diplomatically called “shared responsibility”, so the question: how confident are you that you can convince those countries who have opposed the idea of relocating refugees? How confident are you that you can convince them during your Presidency – during the Maltese Presidency? And if so, how can you unlock the situation?

President Juncker: Yes, there are different elements in this complicated dossier and issue. Since 2014 I am repeating myself by saying that this is not only the problem of Greece, of Italy, of Malta, but that this is a European problem. And this problem needs a European answer – an answer built around the principle of solidarity. And we are continuing to work in that direction, relying on what the Maltese Presidency will propose in that field. But there are other elements – Joseph was referring to the external border protection: I said just minutes ago that we have to strengthen the European presence in the Mediterranean. Of course, we have to discuss with Libya and other Northern African countries the way we can better cooperate than we are doing now. There too, I have full confidence in the ability of the Maltese Government, and mainly the one of the Prime Minister to bring this issue nearer toa definite answer. Then we have launched the idea of a Common European Asylum System which has to be rechecked and which has to be revisited – this will be done in the next coming months. We want to transform the European Asylum Support Office you were visiting this morning into a real European agency in order to strengthen the modus operandi of that important Agency. And we were launching months ago the European External Investment Plan, trying to tackle the root causes of migration. It is by far more intelligent to have European companies investing in Africa than to have these poor people jumping into the water without reaching the destination they initially tried to reach. So there are different elements and we are working together on all these dimensions.

Q3 President Juncker, you have chosen to go personally to Geneva when Prime Minister Tsipras, Prime Minister May and President Erdoğan are hesitant to go there. Is that some kind of strategy? Are you trying by this to push them to play ball?

President Juncker: I took a personal interest in the reunification issue of Cyprus. I really do think – without overdramatising what is happening in Geneva – that this is the last chance to see the island being recomposed in a normal way. And that is the reason why I was visiting Cyprus different times, that is the reason why I was in permanent discussion with President Anastasiades and the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community Mustafa Akıncı. When it is about peace, you have to take the plane. And I do think that it is the duty of the President of the European Commission to be there and to try to bridge the points of view of the two parties involved. I would not be happy with my own behaviour if I were to hide away. It is risky, but when it is about peace you have to take risks. When it is about peace, those who are taking no risks are taking the greater risk.

Q4 Mr Juncker, this Rome Summit that is coming up seems to be surrounded by a very palpable sense of pessimism. I have never known the Brussels corridors so pessimistic in my time. It is not just that there is no vision anymore; it seems to me that there is not even a real sort of self-belief and there certainly does not seem to be any mood of celebration. Can you tell us a bit what you expect out of Rome, what you want to hear and see?

President Juncker: In my time in Brussels and before my time in Brussels, pessimism was always very palpable, not only in the corridors but also in the meeting rooms. That is nothing new. But something has changed. When I was appointed President of the Commission after the vote of Parliament and the approval by the European Council, I wanted to play – how could I say – a constructive role. I wanted – without being euro-enthusiastic or euro-fanatic, these are not really helpful behaviours – I wanted to bring the European integration to a point of no return. What I am charge of now together with Joseph and with others is a deconstruction we are asked to organise. That was not the perspective I had when I was becoming President of the European Commission. But nevertheless and because you are referring to the Rome Summit, which I guess will be prepared during the Valletta Summit here in Malta, when it comes to this Rome Summit we have to explain to the outside world – if not to ourselves – that the leaving of Britain does not mean the end of the European integration and of the European dream and of the European project, that there are different issues where we can realise further progress despite the perspective of the leave of Britain. I am not someone who wants to be optimistic and to describe things in an unproper way – because it is seen as being one of the duties of the Commission President to be as optimistic as possible; no, I want to be realistic. If we are considering the Brexit case as the beginning of the end, we would make a major mistake, and whenever in Europe major mistakes are made, things are turning in the wrong direction. We have to make sure that after Valletta, which is an important rendez-vous we have, the Rome Summit will bring together the best energies of the European nations.

Q5 A question for President Juncker. Do you have any response to the comments of Mr Macron on the euro? Do you think he has a point when he says that the euro currency will not survive without major reforms, it will not survive another decade?

President Juncker: I have a detailed knowledge of how the year 2015 developed when it came to Greece. When we started by the end of 2014, as a President of the Commission I was told more or less by everyone that Greece has to leave the euro area. I was strongly defending the presence of Greece in the euro area. And finally we succeeded – with some difficulties, having had to surmount huge problems, mountains of problems – but nevertheless we succeeded; because we had the feeling, as Prime Ministers and as the Commission, that this was not something you can joke around and you can play with, that this was a vital question for the survival of the euro area. This is leading me to the point you mentioned, concerning Mr Macron. I have not seen what Emmanuel Macron – he is a good friend of mine – has said in recent days, in Berlin, I guess, during the Humboldt speech. But I want to read the speech. I have good reasons not to believe every summary which is published in the papers. I have to read the speech in order to be able to comment. And I have to remind you that the Five Presidents’ Report is addressing that issue: what has to be done in order to strengthen the solidity of the euro area? Different things have to be done. The Commission is intending to publish a White Paper on the future of the European Union, including the one of the Monetary Union. And we know exactly what to do. This is not a question of immediate survival, but this is a question of allowing the euro to provide for a better life of our citizens in the medium-term.