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“In 2019, Romania will be fully prepared to take over the EU Council Presidency”, Says Ana Birchall, Minister Delegate for European Affairs in an interview to Agerpres

You announced one week ago the establishment of the Interministerial Council for the Preparation and Execution of Romania’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. What are the priorities of this Council?

 

Taking over the Presidency of the EU Council represents an immense opportunity to promote Romania. It is, if you will, an occasion to show Europe who the Romanians truly are. We have the chance to promote Romanian culture, customs and traditions.

Surely, at the organizational level, the Interministerial Council for the Preparation and Execution of Romania’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, established through the decision issued last week by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, will exercise a role of strategic guidance. The main attributions regard the debate of interest topics and evaluation of scenarios presented by the members of the Council according to their own areas of competence, the establishment of priority actions and the calendar for their implementation, as well as the establishment of the necessary guidance in the activity of ministries with attributions in elaborating the normative acts necessary for the preparation and execution of the Romanian Presidency of the EU Council.

The council will be led by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, and it will be made-up of the Minister of Regional Development, Public Administration and European Funds, the Minister of Environment, the Foreign Affairs Minister, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Public Finance, the Justice Minister, the Secretary General of the Government and the permanent representative of Romania to the European Union.

Furthermore, a memorandum was adopted in regards to accelerating the process of preparing the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first semester of 2019, as well as an Action plan on the basis of which legislative proposals will be presented along the way, destined to ensure the conditions to prepare the Presidency of the EU Council. Thus, in less than two years, Romania will exercise for the first time the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. We will have then the responsibility of making decisions that have an impact on the entire European community. I wish we will measure up then to the height of the historical moment. Let us have the courage to make decisions that would make Romania a powerful actor in Europe. Let us be part of the group of states which will make history in the European Union.

 

Following Brexit, European agencies hosted in the United Kingdom will relocate to other EU member-states. Do you have signals that Romania might be the place where such an agency would relocate? One of the agencies there is talk of is the Medicines Agency. What are some of the efforts of the Romanian authorities for this to become a reality?

 

I believe that 10 years on from the accession to the European Union, Romania is worthy of hosting the headquarters of a European Agency. There is, in fact, a custom at the level of the European Union, through which each member-state is granted the right to host a European agency. Of course, as I said, it is an informal understanding. The Government has decided, on March 22, that Romania will present its candidacy to host the headquarters of the European Medicines Agency, in the context of debates regarding the relocation of European agencies that are currently headquartered in the United Kingdom. The relocation of the European Medicines Agency in Bucharest would represent an opportunity and a challenge to increase the European profile of Romania and to consolidate its contribution to the activity of the European institutional framework.

The Government decided, in this sense, to establish an interinstitutional working group for drawing up the candidacy folder, identifying a building to host the EMA headquarters, the establishment of the benefit, immunities and fiscal exception packages that will be included in the candidacy offer, as well as the promotion of the candidacy. Important leaders in this demarche are the Health Care Ministry and the National Medicines Agency, who are to establish a set of criteria, and the Minister-delegate for European Affairs will support the candidacy afterwards.

Surely, there were several important cities in other EU member-states that have submitted candidacies to host the authority, it implying around 900 jobs of very high training. We desire to have a chance for success through our candidacy, more so because it would be the first European Agency headquartered in Romania.

 

How will Romania approach, in the context of a united voice, the most important matter regarding Brexit – the status of Romanian citizens that live and work in the United Kingdom?

 

Both within the General Affairs Council (GAC) in Luxembourg, as well as in the European Council taking place in Brussels on April 29 the directions of negotiation of the EU27 were discussed and convened. A priority for our country is the protection of the rights and interests of Romanians that live, study or work in the United Kingdom. Why speak of a strategy of negotiating in a single voice? Because our power of negotiation derives from the cohesion and solidarity of the EU27. Together we are stronger, together we can negotiate coherently and united, so that the interests of Romanians, as of those of all EU citizens in the United Kingdom, be fairly represented.

I want however to mention that nobody wants a break with the United Kingdom. The EU is not requesting and does not desire to sanction the United Kingdom in any way, but desires the respect of European Treaties. The EU member-state status implies both benefits and commitments, and the European Union supports exactly their fulfillment, as they are provided for in the agreements that the United Kingdom is still part of. It’s not a matter of arithmetic, but of the lives, dreams and hopes of some people that must not be dashed. The Strategic Partnership between Romania and the United Kingdom will be developed and consolidated. Security and defence are, for example, priority components in the Romanian-British relation.

 

The year of 2019, in which Romania will hold the Presidency of the EU Council, will be delicate. The United Kingdom will be, if not outside the EU, very close to leaving the EU, two great powers – Germany and France – will have new leaders. Does the configuring of the Presidency take into accounts these variables? If so, how?

 

Over time, the European Union faced different challenges constantly. Whether they were economic crises, whether it was migration, or the danger or radicalization and extremism or the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the community bloc, all have had a greater or lesser impact. Europe, however, always had the power to overcome the watershed moments it went through. Because, beyond political egos, sometimes differing visions, crises that could have made us vulnerable, the power of the European Union also consists of its diversity, of respect towards others, of tolerance.

Sure that the elections in France and Germany, in the complicated European context, are extremely important landmarks. We are all very attentive of the dynamic of the most powerful EU states. I have the conviction that both the elections in France, as well as those in Germany will not only hold safe the cohesion of the European project, but, furthermore, will strengthen the pro-European vision.

Fortunately, in Romania we do not have radical currents, the danger of extremism is reduced, and the attachment of Romanians to European values is at a high level. That is exactly why we propose to have Romanians as allies in the project of the EU Council Presidency. Consequently, Romania’s mandate at the help of the EU Council cannot occur but in consonance with the European values and principles. We have the duty to advance this ideal of a European Union that serves its citizens and that would represent a model of peace and prosperity for us and the generations to come.

We will have, in the first semester of 2019, the responsibility of making decisions that impact the entire European community. I wish that we are then among the countries that will make history for the European Union.

 

Romania is part of a presidential trio of the 2019 EU Council, together with Finland and Croatia. How do you define, at this moment, the dialogue with each of the two partner countries?

 

It is a great challenge and we are aware of the role that is bestowed upon us as the state that will exercise the EU Council Presidency in a trio together with Finland and Croatia. However, through work and intelligence we can transform the challenge into an opportunity. We are already working on the programme that the Romania-Croatia-Finland trio will advance upon taking over the EU Council Presidency. At the same time, we are working on defining the mandate that Romania will have at the helm of the EU Council, because we will have to manage sensitive matters, at the forefront of the EU agenda, such as Brexit, migration, the Union’s budget post-2020 (the Multiannual Financial Framework), negotiations regarding cohesion policy, the future of Europe in the context of the 2020 Strategy.

We have accelerated the process of preparing the Presidency on the political level, committing to bilateral discussions with member-states and European institutions, mainly with colleagues in Finland and Croatia, as well as with the General Secretariat of the EU Council. We have a relationship of openness, cooperation and dialogue both with my counterparts in Finland and Croatia, as well as at the level of diplomatic representations of the two countries. Furthermore, we are conducting substantive dialogue with Austria, country from which Romania will take over the Presidency of the EU Council in the first semester of 2019. Furthermore, extremely important is the contribution of the civil society, the academic milieu, of media, who can offer useful themes and ideas in defining Romania’s mandate.

Therefore, I believe that all premises are ensured so that the Romania-Croatia-Finland trio – which will ensure in that order, for 6 months each the Presidency of the Council of the EU, to exercise a successful mandate, in agreement with the European citizens’ expectations.

 

Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu stated recently that Romania desires to hold a Presidency of the EU Council without the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism in 2019. On the other hand, the First Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, stated, in Bucharest, that he sees no connection between the CVM and the Romanian Presidency of the Council. What is your opinion?

 

Romania’s objective is that on January 1, 2019, when our country will take over the Presidency of the EU Council, the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism be lifted. I believe that there are premises for this objective to be fulfilled, so that 2018 is the last year with a CVM for Romania, even more so as at the EU level we have several verification instruments, like the Country Report of the European Semester.

As the coordinator of the European Affairs portfolio I will continue to maintain an intense dialogue with the representatives of the European Commission to present Romania’s progress in the areas of focus for the CVM. This dialogue will see the continuous promotion of joint efforts of Romanian institutions to fulfill the 12 recommendations of the Commission established through the last CVM report of January 2017, on the basis of a clear, unequivocal understanding of them as well as on a precise, predictable calendar. Thus, at the moment of fulfilling the 12 recommendations, on the basis of a precise calendar, the CVM mechanism must be lifted. It is in Romania’s interest for consensus to exist on this project, not disputes and dissensions. The political use of the CVM in areas at the forefront such as the Multiannual Financial Framework, the Cohesion Policy, the Common Agricultural Policy comes, ultimately, against the legitimate interests of Romania.

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