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16 June, 2024
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EU's Schinas criticizes veto use, stresses need for compromise

European Commission Vice President highlights concerns ahead of council clash and discusses EU-Turkey relations

George Kakouris

George Kakouris

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas voiced concerns about the use of the veto as a primary defense tactic, stating that it hinders compromise rather than facilitating it. In an interview conducted from his office in Brussels just days before the impending clash in the European Council over Orban's stance, Schinas emphasized that there is one area where the veto should not be lifted — enlargement.

Schinas underscored his belief that the significant achievements of small countries do not result from vetoes but rather stem from the resilience, alliances, and persuasion they cultivate. Addressing the upcoming battle in the European Council, Schinas expressed his views on the irremovable nature of the veto in the context of enlargement discussions.

anyone who talks about two states does so without having spoken to anyone in Brussels because...Brussels would have told him that there was no way that this prospect could be realized.

Commenting on the Borel/Commission report on EU-Turkey relations, Schinas conveyed satisfaction with its content concerning Cypriot aspirations. However, when questioned about any shortcomings, he dismissed its political and substantive impact, stating that it does not contribute to a road that is, in essence, blocked.

Regarding Turkish statements advocating a two-state solution, Schinas reiterated the EU's rejection of such an approach. He emphasized that the EU does not concern itself with the internal political dynamics of Turkey, emphasizing that the rhetoric's purpose within Turkey is a matter for them, not the EU.

- By the time this interview is published, the outcome of the Hungarian veto on Ukraine's accession negotiations will be known. However, I would like to hear your perspective on the challenges posed by the unanimity principle on crucial issues. How can these challenges be addressed without negatively impacting small states that rely on unanimity?

- I have been immersed in European politics for many years, and this question has remained constant, indicating its existential nature. Is it a question of "veto or no veto" to build Europe? My stance is that the most effective way to construct Europe is by reconciling our differences and finding common ground. Employing the veto as the first line of defense does not facilitate compromise; rather, it makes it more difficult. Compromising after a veto is more demanding, whereas it is more sensible and often more conducive to everyone's interests to compromise and reconcile differences. I recognize the value of the veto in one area over time, and that is enlargement. Enlarging the European Union is a profound matter where each member state must have a say, similar to any group or union deciding rules for new members. Finding a solution for the future entails unearthing differences in areas requiring more Europe while retaining the veto for strictly defined moments involving significant issues like enlargement.

- Are there other areas where you believe the veto should remain, such as national security or defense? Where else do you see its relevance beyond enlargement?

- I believe that retaining the veto in areas like taxation, security, and foreign relations hasn't contributed to building a better Europe. On the contrary, consensus suggests that the future challenges for Europe lie in these areas. Small countries in Europe, precisely due to their size, have managed to build alliances, demonstrating resilience and persuasiveness. Their achievements stem not from vetoes but from their ability to align with majorities that support them.

- Is this also due to the existence of the threat of the veto, even when not used? Does the possibility of the veto give small member states a unique influence without explicitly invoking it?

- Yes, but I reiterate what I mentioned earlier. The use, threat, or mere existence of the veto in these areas is sometimes perceived as an admission of an inability to positively assert one's views. The architects of European agreements have distinguished themselves by passing them through compromise rather than denial and obstruction.

- Considering the summit, do you see any potential for Member States to assist Ukraine, especially financially, without Hungary? Has the Commission undertaken any preparatory work on this matter?

- I believe that every opportunity for agreement among the 27 on this issue should be explored. We are having our discussion before the European Council begins, but difficult political milestones have demonstrated that it is challenging to leave the meeting room without a positive agreement.

In other words, the risk of disagreement on such an issue is so substantial that it compels them to exhaust any potential for agreement, which I believe is feasible.

- Even regarding financial aid and membership?

- This European Council faces a demanding agenda with issues of existential importance for the Union, including enlargement, the budget, funding for Ukraine, and potentially new rules for the Stability Pact. It is a comprehensive menu. The most pressing matters are the budget, support for Ukraine, and instructions for enlargement, which will need to be provided to the Commission. Determining where to begin and at what pace is crucial. If the funding issue for Ukraine is resolved, it will likely positively impact the pace of enlargement.

The Borel report

- One of the issues that was to have been on the agenda but was eventually reduced to a brief mention in the conclusions is the Borel/Commission report on EU-Turkey relations. But there was a promise that the leaders would discuss it, in this Council.

- This was the plan, as it was two years ago, but given the pressure on the leaders on the big issues mentioned above, the report on Turkey is not expected to be at the center of the discussions. But it is a report that cannot be ignored. It is a report that has very satisfactory content for Cypriot aspirations. It is a report to which we contributed a lot here when it was written. And it is a report that cannot under any circumstances be swept under the carpet. Whether or not it is discussed at the Summit, it will remain a key reference point for Euro-Turkish relations.

- One criticism of the report is that it does not sufficiently link Turkey's accession path or its relationship with the EU more broadly to the resolution of the Cyprus problem.

- I do not want to enter into a discussion of the substance of every aspect of this report now. But I do want to say that perhaps the answer to this is that Turkey's pre-accession path is de facto blocked. And to keep adding issues to a road that is de facto blocked has no political or substantive impact. It is a given that Turkey's pre-accession path will only be opened if the Republic of Cyprus' aspirations are positively addressed. It is a given that the pre-accession road will be reopened if Turkey reverts to being a state that looks forward to democracy, to the rule of law, to a just and tolerant society. As long as these things do not happen, there will be no step towards a pre-accession path. On the contrary, the other path of the so-called positive agenda is a path that remains open. It is in everyone's interest to continue cooperation with Turkey on issues such as migration, trade, investment, non-discrimination, cooperation on security and terrorism and so on.

- Besides the report, how do we incentivize Turkey to move from the two-state position? What can the European Union do about this?

- First of all, anyone who talks about two states as a prospect for a Cyprus settlement does so without having spoken to anyone in Brussels because if that had happened, Brussels would have told him that there is no way that this prospect could be realized. Now, how Turkey is being kept on a path of positive alignment with Europe I think is about Turkey, not Europe. It is Turkey that has to decide where it wants to be, who it wants to work with, how it wants to cooperate, how it imagines itself in 10, 20, 30 years, especially in this geopolitical regime of surrounding insecurity. Europe has made it absolutely clear what it expects from Turkey, now the ball is in Turkey's court.

- From your contacts, do you have the impression that this is a negotiating position or a position that is now firm that we are going for two states?

- I have not heard anybody talk to me about two states, perhaps because if they did, they know what response they would get. But I do not believe that Cyprus, being a state of the European Union and the Eurozone, a reunited Cyprus, could be functional in such a perspective. I think this is obvious. It is well known that if there is a prospect of reunification, it must be on the basis of the acquis communautaire, on the basis of a single functioning state. There is no room for any other institutional solution in the European acquis.

- But from the contacts that other Commissioners and Commission departments have with Turkey, is there a sense of whether they can give way?

- The Commission, as you know, is not involved in the negotiations. The whole process is under the auspices of the UN. We read these views of Turkish officials about the two states, we do not share them and I do not think that Turkey expects Europe ever to share them. Now what this rhetoric serves in terms of internal Turkish politics is not a matter for us, it is a matter for them.

National security measures: Upholding judicial guarantees

- An issue has recently emerged in Cyprus during discussions on the European Media Freedom Act. Reports suggest that Cyprus supports the inclusion of an exception for national security reasons in bans on the surveillance of journalists. From the perspective of the Commission, can national security justify the surveillance of journalists, or should it be subject to specific criteria?

- My position is public and has been publicly stated. As a security officer, I believe that national security services must have the ability to organize and strengthen the defense of countries against national security threats. However, there is one unconditional and unalterable condition: the provision of judicial and legal guarantees. In other words, no intelligence service should be able to act without an independent judge legitimizing and authorizing its work. This is an essential aspect of the European way of life and the European approach to security. On the other hand, the issue of so-called illegal software circulated and marketed by private companies is a separate matter. Here, I want to be unequivocal: the use and marketing of this illegal software in the European Union must be prohibited.

- Could national security be defined at the European level, or should there be an obligation for Member States to specifically define what constitutes national security?

- I believe this is not possible because national security is perhaps one of the few bastions of national sovereignty. It should remain within the realm of national competence. This does not imply, however, that there should be no coordination and convergence in the basic principles each Member State applies to achieve national security. Under no circumstances can Europe replace community competence with this responsibility. 

[This interview was translated from its Greek original]

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