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The withdrawal process of the United Kingdom from the European Union represents a significant moment of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and Romania's action will be extremely important so that European citizens, including Romanians, will not suffer, Minister Delegate for European Affairs George Ciamba said in an interview for AGERPRES.
According to him, during its Presidency of the EU Council, Romania intends to support actions aimed at protecting the democratic and free elections to the European Parliament, against external interference and to develop a coordinated response to the disinformation phenomenon. The Romanian official refers not only to fake news, but also to cyber attacks, highlighting the importance of identifying the best ways to protect the electoral process from any external influences.
"The society and the civil society in particular must play the leading role and act independently from the involvement of the states and the Union, but, just like the media, they must receive adequate resources, be supported by both the Member States and the Union. The academic environment, the NGOs and think-tanks can make a decisive contribution through fact-checking, by promoting the citizens' media and informational literacy, by exposing - in tune with the media - the disinformation campaigns and fake news whenever they appear," says the Minister Delegate for European Affairs.
In the AGERPRES interview, he also talks about raising interest in the Black Sea region, highlighting the active support of the European Commission.
"We hope that our Presidency, drawing on the results of our Bulgarian colleagues, will encourage the revitalization of the Black Sea Synergy, especially in the sense of its upgrading and that of projects supported by the EU and the Member States, oriented towards the future. I would also like to note the active support of the European Commission and our partners in the Black Sea region in developing a Common Maritime Agenda of the region inspired by the concept of the blue economy, and a Strategic Black Sea Innovation and Research Agenda, two results that will favor the concrete regional cooperation in the medium and long term," states the Romanian official.
AGERPRES: Tuesday marked the debut of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in Brussels, within the General Affairs Council. How have the works of your first sitting unfolded? What will be the specific files important for our country that we can promote during this term?
George Ciamba: We already have a complex discussion agenda, we have presented our Presidency's priorities, built around the concept of cohesion, distributed in the four main pillars of action: Europe of Convergence, A Safer Europe, Europe, as a Stronger Global Actor and Europe of Common Values. The Member States were then informed of the state of play of the post-2020 European budget negotiations and the next steps with a view to reaching a timely agreement. We also had an exchange of views on the misinformation phenomenon, following the European Council's request to develop a coordinated response to this challenge. In fact, the issue is also among the priorities of our Presidency of the EU Council, during which we intend to support actions aimed at protecting the democratic and free elections to the European Parliament against external interference.
We have a very wide range of files to manage. As the Presidency, Romania will lead the works of the Council of the European Union, trying to contribute to the advancement of the European agenda by impartially managing files on the EU agenda during its six-month mandate: defining the future European Union budget, the functioning of the Single European Market, strengthening the social dimension, the Union's internal security agenda, combating terrorism, managing the phenomenon of migration and strengthening the role of the European Union on a global scale. Romania's Presidency of the Council of the European Union will focus on identifying solutions that reflect both the interests of the Member States and the vision of the European institutions, thus responding to the ideal of a Europe of solidarity, united and strong.
AGERPRES: During the exercise of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, important events will take place at European level, including the actual exit of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the Community. How do you envisage the developments and implications of this file throughout the term of Romania's Presidency of the EU Council?
George Ciamba: The withdrawal process of the United Kingdom from the European Union is indeed a significant moment of the Romanian Presidency at the Council of the European Union. I think the Brexit related subjects are very topical for the Romanian citizens as well, especially since the no-deal Brexit scenario cannot yet be ruled out, at least theoretically. Until March 29, 2019, when the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union, there is also the date of January 15, when the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Parliament will cast the vote on the withdrawal agreement, along with the associated political declaration. If things go in the direction we do not want - just as we did not wish the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union - I think it will be very important for our legislative work to be well prepared and timely. In this regard, we are already in contact with the European Commission and all institutional actors. Our action will be extremely important, so that European citizens, including Romanians, do not have to suffer. More than what the Commission can do at technical level, the Member States's action at Council level is also essential, and all the more so that of Romania, as the Presidency-in-Office.
AGERPRES: What can Romania do to increase the interest, the European and economic support for the Black Sea region?
George Ciamba: We are counting on the support of the European External Action Service and the European Commission to make progress on regional cooperation in the Black Sea, thanks to the enhanced involvement of the European Union. We hope that our Presidency, drawing on the results of our Bulgarian colleagues, will encourage the revitalization of the Black Sea Synergy, especially in the sense of its upgrading and that of projects supported by the EU and the Member States, oriented towards the future. I would also like to note the active support of the European Commission and our partners in the Black Sea region in developing a Common Maritime Agenda of the region inspired by the concept of the blue economy and a Strategic Black Sea Innovation and Research Agenda, which will favor the concrete regional cooperation in the medium and long term. I also thank the Commission for supporting cooperation at the level of the civil society in the region, an 11-year initiative of Romania. We count on the sustainable establishment of all these dimensions, under our Presidency, within several official events to be held in Bucharest and Brussels in May-June.
AGERPRES: 2019 is an electoral year for Romania too, as both EP and presidential elections will be held. Will this affect the pursuit of the priorities of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union?
George Ciamba: I would place the upcoming elections to the European Parliament due in May 2019 in the special European context that marks our term, alongside the Brexit process and the current debate on the future of Europe. At the same time, we must permanently keep our attention on global developments that also influence the dynamics of the European agenda: developments in the transatlantic relationship, the rise of the Eurosceptic rhetoric and the increased international pressure on the European model of social market economy.
In this decisive context for the European project, we will act with pragmatism to ensure the continuity of the European agenda and we will seek to contribute through our actions to creating a Europe that is more united and closer to its citizens' expectations.
On the other hand, as I have said it on other occasions, this project is not an instrument of internal political fight. The Presidency of the Council of the European Union is a strategic project that must be supported regardless of the course of internal political debates. I am convinced that through a common commitment, anchored in a pro-European vision, we can help strengthen the European project in the next six months.
AGERPRES: Given that we raised European elections for discussion, one of the subjects discussed at the General Affairs Council meeting was the combat of disinformation to protect the upcoming EP elections against any kind of interference from outside. What is Romania's vision on this subject?
George Ciamba: Disinformation is without doubt one of the major challenges of democracies. As I have already mentioned, the combat of the fake news phenomenon has already been on the agenda of the CAG meeting. In the current geopolitical context, with the approaching elections to the European Parliament, the best methods must be identified to protect this electoral process from all external influences. I am referring here not only to fake news, but also to cyber attacks. This requires a concerted, proactive effort of the EU and member states, as well as of the civil society and the relevant industry.
2018 has been a very good year for closing ranks against disinformation. Important steps have been taken. A best practice Code on Disinformation has been adopted, together with online platforms, major social networks and the advertising industry, which proposes a self-regulatory process. Recently, the Action Plan against Disinformation was adopted, an extensive and comprehensive document the conception of which had Romania participate alongside other member states and which we want to be implemented to an as high as possible extent during Romania's Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The society and the civil society in particular must play the leading role and act independently from the involvement of the states and of the Union, but, just like the media, it must receive adequate resources, get support from both the member states and the Union. The academic milieu, the NGOs and think-tanks can make a decisive contribution through fact-checking, by promoting citizen media and information literacy, by exposing - in tune with the media - the disinformation campaigns and fake news whenever they appear.
AGERPRES: What can you tell us about the logo of this term, which is already highly visible both in Brussels and Bucharest, where it is being beamed inclusively on the façade of the Victoria Palace of Government?
George Ciamba: Unlike other presidencies, we have decided to involve young people in the actions dedicated to defining the visual identity of our term. The logo was chosen following a competition organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in partnership with the Ministry of National Education. The winner, a 15-year old 9th grader from the "I.L. Caragiale" National College in Bucharest, wanted to illustrate through his drawing a moving, self-assured European Union, dynamic, but also attached to its values.
AGERPRES: "Cohesion, a common European value". Why did you choose this slogan for the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union?
George Ciamba: This was no accidental choice. The European Union is founded on the shared commitment of the member states to promoting and consolidating peace, stability and prosperity in a cohesive manner, acting together, sharing a set of common values while respecting the linguistic and cultural diversity of each European country. We are convinced that the vision we design for our future must be built around the principle of cohesion.
Beyond the historical milestones and the established role of the cohesion principle in the development of the European project, the challenges of the latest period even stronger reveal the need to strengthen the unity and cohesion of the European Union. Therefore, the agenda of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union was designed based on this key idea, which is also reflected in our motto.
First of all, we envisage cohesion as a political value that ensures the unity of the member countries. I think this is a very important message that we must convey precisely at the time when the Union undergoes unprecedented transformations. At the same time, cohesion also has an economic dimension, that is directly linked to convergence. For Romania, joining the European Union has generated indisputable benefits, and the doubling of the Gross Domestic Product in twelve years of EU membership is an eloquent example. We also considered this valency of economic cohesion in the light of the acknowledgement that full integration into the single market is essential, so that its benefits are felt by all citizens. Last but not least, the social dimension of cohesion, also understood through the imperative of ensuring social convergence and preserving the four fundamental freedoms of the internal market of the European Union, must also be promoted.
AGERPRES: If you could send the citizens just one message about Romania's Presidency of the Council of the European Union, what would this be?
George Ciamba: Twelve years after accession, at a key moment in the evolution of the European project, Romania has taken up a role that will definitely confirm the maturity of our European status. The mandate of our Presidency will open a stage of maximum visibility on the European scene, during which we will have the opportunity to project our vision on the European agenda, for the benefit of the Union and of its citizens. AGERPRES (RO - author: Mirela Barbulescu; EN - authors: Simona Iacob, Simona Klodnischi, editor: Simona Iacob, Maria Voican)
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