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I should like to thank President Syllouris and all of you for inviting me to address the House of Representatives today.
Over the last decade, our Union has experienced the worst economic crisis in its history.
It is a crisis which has had a seriously damaging impact on the economic and social fabric of the Union, widening social and regional disparities.
Cyprus, too, has paid a very high price.
Now, however, growth has returned to Europe. Your island is recovering lost ground, and doing so quickly.
With a growth rate of 3%, you are doing better than the European average.
Nevertheless, our citizens still have feelings of disaffection towards the Union, feelings of distance which we must overcome.
Remedying this is the priority I have set for my term of office.
Our citizens want a Europe which listens and comes up with practical answers to their problems.
According to the findings of the most recent Eurobarometer survey, Cypriots have the same concerns as most Europeans: unemployment, terrorism, peace, stability and security.
On this last point, the European Parliament and the Union as a whole are right behind Cyprus in its efforts to achieve an agreement on the issue of reunification which is consistent with the criteria laid down by the United Nations and with the principles underpinning our Union.
Growth and jobs
If our priority is to create jobs, then we must invest in the real economy. The Union must make support for firms of all sizes the focus of its efforts.
If we are to compete in an ever more globalised and digitalised world, we need investment in infrastructure, transport, energy efficiency, networks and logistics.
The first step, therefore, must be to complete the single market in goods and services, the single energy market and the digital single market.
We also need to make it easier for firms to access funding.
Here, the aim must first be to complete the Banking Union and the single market in capital as quickly as possible.
The digital revolution is transforming manufacturing, the fabric of our society, our whole way of life in fact.
We must seize this opportunity to make our economic system more competitive. At the same time, we must make sure that no one who is struggling is left behind.
The Union must be a project which brings prosperity to everyone.
Investment in training is a key priority.
Last week, I signed, on behalf of the European Parliament, the EU budget for 2018. We fought to secure more funding for education and training, for SMEs, for research and for innovation.
The next EU budget must meet citizens’ real expectations. If we are to do that, we need proper resources and strong political leadership.
If we are to bring the Union closer to its citizens, after 10 years of crisis, we need far-reaching reforms.
The economic governance package presented by the Commission last Wednesday will take us in the direction that the European Parliament has been advocating: a European Monetary Fund, a Finance Minister, and more resources for investment, convergence and assistance for countries in difficulty.
We must be ambitious. If we are to make real progress, we need measures which go beyond the day-to-day running of the economy.
The European Parliament is calling for more transparent and more democratic economic governance which involves the national parliaments.
We need to complete the Fiscal, Economic and Political Union. Only together can we stand up to the giants, such as China and the United States, and meet the global challenges of terrorism, security, immigration and climate change.
Security and terrorism
In a practical response to the problem of terrorism, the European Parliament has set up a special committee to assess the current anti-terrorism laws and suggest ways of remedying their shortcomings. The committee’s recommendations are expected in a few months’ time.
We need to work together more effectively.
One key step would be to set up a European equivalent of the FBI to act as a clearing house for information and intelligence among the Member States.
Last month, the European Parliament approved an important step forward, in the form of the overhaul of the Dublin Regulation.
Asylum seekers must be allocated fairly among all the Member States.
Responsibility for dealing with them cannot be allowed to fall exclusively on the shoulders of the ‘country of first entry’.
We cannot leave a few countries to manage a huge influx of people on their own. The Union must show solidarity, for example by providing support through regional cohesion funds.
I shall put this message across again at next week’s European Council meeting.
Partnership with Africa
If we want to address the problem of migration at its roots, we need to look to Africa.
Two weeks ago, I was in Abidjan, in Côte d’Ivoire, attending the African Union-European Union Summit. There, I emphasised once again the importance of a strong partnership with Africa.
Here, in Nicosia, you are only too well aware of this.
We are tied to Africa by history and geography, by common languages and values. We must use the advantage that gives us to find effective solutions to common challenges.
If we fail to offer young Africans, whose numbers will increase still further over the next few decades, prospects and jobs, we will never be able to address the migration crisis effectively.
We need a new approach: aid must give way to development, to a partnership of equals, to a strategy which focuses on people, on the real economy, on SMEs and on entrepreneurs.
For that we need a genuine ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa, with a budget of EUR 40 billion which, through the leverage effect it generates, attracts investment of EUR 500 billion in infrastructure, digital technologies, transport and training.
Every European citizen can count on two parliaments: their national parliament, and the European Parliament.
We have complementary roles. Many of our laws are the fruit of our cooperation.
We must work together to build citizens’ trust in our Common European House.
I am thinking of the work we are doing with the Conference of Parliamentary Committees (COSAC), the Interparliamentary Conference for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CSF-IPC) and the recently established Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group (JPSG) on Europol.
The European Parliament is ready to support this House of Representatives and the calls it makes.
I have been informed that a delegation from this House has been invited to visit Brussels in January.
We must continue along that path.
I invite you all to take part in the debate on the future of the Union and to raise awareness of the 2019 European elections, when the Cypriot people will go to the polls to elect their own representatives in Europe.