If the EU does not listen to the concerns of society the vision of European integration and the basic freedoms underpinning this vision would become prey to the rhetoric of intolerance and Eurosceptics, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said on Monday.
Kasoulides was speaking at an event titled ‘The EU and Cyprus: The challenge of stability and cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean’, in Nicosia organised by the EU Delegation.
Referring to the migrant crisis, Kasoulides said European governments had not acquired a common approach and voice to tackle the issue, which in turn affected the way it was viewed by EU citizens from country to country.
He said with migration it was not an issue of opposing the phenomenon but of managing it.
“The crises in Syria and Libya have certainly contributed to the proliferation of this phenomenon, but we must take into account that Syrian refugees fleeing to save their lives, do not constitute the majority of migrants coming to Europe,” he said. “But when you end the crisis in Syria and when a state is built in Libya, we will have to face migratory flows, but certainly to a lesser degree.”
The important thing, he said, was the need for solidarity among member states to address the challenges. “The European Union is an organisation which exists due to the members’ will to accept and implement decisions taken collectively,” Kasoulides said.
He also said the EU had for many years not made the eastern Mediterranean a priority for the bloc and Brussels had treated the region with “chequebook diplomacy” and lectures on human rights.
“Clearly there was the impression that the political issues of the region concerned only to some members of the union,” he said.
“There was a complacency and a reluctance to engage the European Union in political, defence and security issues.”
However, the crisis in Syria, the geographical spread of IS in Iraq and Syria, the collapse of Libya, the sharp increase in migratory flows and the impasse in Palestinian-Israel conflict had “awakened the states of the union”.
There were three areas where the EU could constructively engage in the region and transform challenges into cooperation, Kasoulides said.
These were on security and counterterrorism, sustainable economic development and engaging reliable partners in the region such as Egypt.
“There can be no stability without economic development,” Kasoulides said. “The former model of economic cooperation between the union and the Eastern Mediterranean and broader Middle East that focused on market access was one-sided.”
Kasoulides said that between 2013-2015, the trade balance in favour of the union towards the southern Mediterranean partners increased by 50 per cent.
“This is not a sustainable model of cooperation and I am glad that some steps are being taken in Brussels to correct this policy.”