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16 February 2019
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Joint press conference by Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania and Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission

On Friday, January 11, The President of Romania, Mr. Klaus Iohannis, held a joint press conference with the President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, at Cotroceni Presidential Palace.

Here is the transcript of the joint press conference:

President of Romania, Mr. Klaus Iohannis:

Dear Mr. President of the European Commission, dear Jean-Claude,

At the beginning of 2019, we are witnessing a moment of great importance that will remain in the history of our country: the launch of the first Presidency of Romania at the Council of the European Union.

I would like to thank you, President Juncker, for your presence here today in Bucharest, together with the College of Commissioners, to mark this moment!

Earlier today I had an open and constructive discussion with President Juncker and the European Commissioners. We have discussed many times also in the strategic debates at the European Council, about the European issues and I think we are well prepared for the difficult but exciting period we are starting now and which we hope we end with good results. We consider the European Commission is a vital and important partner, with whom we have a very good dialogue, a partner with whom we share the goal of a stronger, more united and more efficient Europe – both internally and externally. This will be the goal to which our efforts will be directed over the next 6 months.

In this context, today’s discussions have focused on a number of important dossiers on the European agenda, but at the same time we have discussed some general approaches that are extremely important for the coming period. Obviously, we discussed today, with President Juncker, and also with the European Commissioners, about Brexit, about the multiannual budget for the next period, about migration, about European security and about how we can build an optimistic, realistic, good, and credible strategic agenda for the next period.

If we refer to Brexit, I can tell you that we all want an orderly withdrawal of United Kingdom. We hope this will happen. At the same time, however, we will focus our efforts on facilitating the adoption of the measures proposed by the European Commission to ensure that the European Union is properly prepared for the withdrawal of the UK in any scenario.

The Union’s budget obviously plays a major role in supporting our political objectives, and in the negotiations, we will have over the next 6 months, we will seek to achieve consensual, balanced outcomes adapted to the realities that citizens across Europe perceive daily.

The Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union will be fully committed to this process in line with the objective set by the last European Council, namely, to reach a political agreement by the end of 2019.

Migration is an issue that requires all our attention. We understand that everybody expects us to be involved in the discussions and look for the best solutions together with our partners. Looking at our common future, we think that the informal Summit taking place in Sibiu on 9 May will be a benchmark for our presidency but also for the European Union as a whole, given its important role in preparing future priorities and strategic approaches for the period following the European Parliament elections.

We have discussed these issues and we have agreed that the guidelines to be drawn on this occasion on the future of the European project must have a consensual basis and respond to the expectations of European citizens.

I am confident that the next 6 months will offer us the opportunity to work constructively together and to develop our cooperation to achieve these goals. Personally, I am very committed to this important step for Romania, and I also know that everyone on our part is very committed and determined to work in order to get good results, achieve our objectives and finalize many of the ongoing dossiers, develop a viable and credible strategy for the future of the European Union.

Thank you! Please, Mister President..

President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker:

Jean-Claude Juncker: Mister President of the Republic, dear Klaus, I would like to quickly say a few things. We are glad to be in Romania and I would like to thank the Government and to the Government for the very pleasant welcome that we have received here.

For me, Romania is not a country like any other, as, from my biography point of view, I have always been close to the Romanian path towards the European Union. In December 1997, I was in Luxembourg as President of the European Council and that allowed the Member States that we call member states today, even if these have been together with us for quite a while, so the Council which decided back then to open the European perspective for these countries.

These things seem now to be taken for granted, but back then there was quite a fierce debate and there were many countries knocking on the door of the European Union. I do not regret the decision taken back then, as I feel that, without Romania, the European Union is not complete. I think we owe a lot to Romania and Romania, as well, in its own turn, owes a lot to the European Union.

Later on, on behalf of the European Council, also in Luxembourg, in April 2005, we signed the Treaty of Accession of Romania to the European Union and I have never had the slightest regret regarding this.

Together with the President we have decided to get very well prepared for the Sibiu summit, on 9th of May. This will be a meeting dedicated to stability, as by then, the United Kingdom will have left the European Union and we must demonstrate to all, to those observing us from outside, as well, that the European Union is being restarted, with a new beginning. This is a new stage in its long-standing history, which has never been a very calm body of water.

The Romanian Presidency will be a presidency that delivers. We, actually, the Commission has submitted a whole series of legislative proposals to the co-decision making bodies, the European Parliament and the Council, and we expect most of these to be concluded before the elections for the European Parliament.

This means a lot of work for the Romanian Presidency and I apologize to the Romanian President for the fact that the Commission has worked so fast and has been able to produce and bring so many legislative initiatives to the attention of the European co-legislator.

This will be a Presidency that will have to deal also with the multiannual financial perspectives. The Austrian Presidency has already covered the technical side and now the Romanian Presidency must continue on this already open path, as we cannot interrupt this process right now, right before the European elections, we cannot take a pause from action or from the reflection process and we wish for this entire dossier to be dealt with the attention and the speed that it deserves.

Then, Brexit, of course, we are in contact at all times, myself, the Commission, with Downing Street no. 10, with the British Prime Minister and we will see next week which are the conclusions drawn by the British Parliament over the proposed texts. I hope to reach an agreement. I do not wish to have the United Kindgom leave without an agreement, as this would be a disaster for the British citizens, as well as for the entire European continent.

This is why we must undertake all efforts starting from now until Tuesday, until the vote of the British Parliament, so that this important project should not fail. I also think that the Romanian Presidency will be able to have a very significant contribution, in order to demonstrate that all those who claim that there are two sides in Europe, the West and the East, that there is internal fragmentation, they are all wrong, as Europe is breathing through these two lungs and that Europe, during the Romanian Presidency and afterwards, is able to act in an organized and ordered fashion.

It would be better that the atmosphere and spirit of consensus allowing Europe to progress exist in your country, as well. We must not export internal conflicts to Europe and we cannot engage in a pointless conflict, because it will lead to many internal and external issues.

Romania wants to be useful for Europe and that is why it must internally establish the preliminary requirements allowing it to have a successful presidency. Therefore, I believe that the first Romanian Presidency has all the chances to be a great presidency

Thank you!

Questions and answers:

Reporter: One question for both presidents, related to the Western Balkans strategy. It is now underway the dispute on the name of the Republic of Macedonia, the last phase taking place in the Parliament. This issue has been settled for the moment, but do we have a plan B this kind of problems? Can we really wait another 10 years to have a European perspective on the Western Balkan countries? What can be done? What solutions do you have in this case?

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker: In connection with this problem of the name of the old Republic of Macedonia, I am impressed with the courage of the two Prime Ministers, all the more as they bear this responsibility in the history and I wish this process ends successfully within the deadlines. I can only urge the 2 governments, the 2 Prime Ministers, the 2 Parliaments to do what history asks them to do.

President of Romania Klaus Iohannis: The Western Balkans is an area in our immediate proximity and, regardless of geographical location, it is an issue we are interested in and which concerns us directly. Romania is convinced that the place of this area is with us. Obviously, this is a general assertion that needs to be put into practice, a process that sometimes turns out to be quite complex. On the issue you mentioned I have exactly the same position as President Juncker and I hope that the actors concerned make quick steps to solve one of the problems which, we must be very honest, made it impossible for substantial progress to be made.

Reporter: I have a question for the President of the European Commission. In your speech last evening at the Romanian Athenaeum, you said that the European Commission shall make no compromise on the rule of law and democracy. Can you tell us more exactly what you have referred to and whether, for example, a normative act on pardon and amnesty, which is strongly referred to on the Romanian political scene, would be such a compromise and what would the consequences be? And for President Iohannis, if you are somewhat worried that the disputes over justice in Bucharest could in any way affect the exercise of Romanian Presidency of the European Council.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker: In this regard, dear madam, I wanted to recall the European rules, concerning the absolute need of observing the rule of law. I said that Europe is also made up of compromises, but there must be no compromise on the essential issues, because these essential issues would be adversely affected if an amnesty is granted and comes in force, as some of your country politicians predict. It would be a step back.

President of Romania Klaus Iohannis: You know very well that for me the rule of law in Romania is not negotiable and I have repeatedly reiterated this position and I will stick to that opinion.

The discussion on the laws of justice and Codes in Romania is a very complicated one, which has been going on for 2 years now, and I hope that everyone involved has the wisdom to lead this discussion to a final that is consistent not only with my expectations, but also in line with the expectations of the Romanians, the expectations expressed by the Venice Commission and the expectations expressed by GRECO.

We cannot build in Romania a legal system that is incompatible with the other legal systems in Europe, all the more so since, by joining the European Union, we wanted to be also part of a space of values and we still want to remain there. This space of values obviously also includes the basic principles of the rule of law.

This is a discussion we will continue in Romania, and I am not going to make any compromise on these values and principles!

On the other hand, as we have already seen, unfortunately this discussion does not improve Romania’s image, and this is a problem that we have to consider.

But, as far as European affairs are concerned, I am convinced that we will find, together with the Government, the right approaches to reach the objectives we have establish for this 6-months Presidency at the Council of the European Union. Internal policy issues must not affect the steps we take while holding the EU Council Presidency, and I think this message was very well understood by all parties.

Reporter: Mister Juncker, you have spoken about your contacts with the British Prime Minister in the last few days. Can I ask you to be more specific, as Missis May is facing an almost certain defeat in the Commons on Tuesday and she says she needs more assurances from the EU specifically in relation to the backstop and its temporary nature? Can you elaborate on what sort of assurances you will be able to give her? Is there a letter drafted? What does the Commission do if on Tuesday the vote goes down?

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker: I do not want to engage now in speculation in terms of reciprocity. The Commission said there would be no renegotiations. I said we can provide clarifications. Of course, we are in contact with the cabinet of the British Prime Minister, but please do not interpret this contact as a renegotiation, especially with regard to the backstop. I do not think it would be wise to make an opinion on all the details of the ongoing discussions. You knew very well before asking the question that I would give you this answer. Let me do my job.

I could become highly prominent from one moment to the next, if I came into the details of your question, and I do not think it is your concern to help me become less popular on different items. I will resist to that temptation.

Reporter: Mister Juncker, in your speech on the state of the Union, you have always said that there can be no first-hand and second-hand citizens at Union level, in other words, that the double standard at Union level must be eliminated. Concretely, what can you do in your remaining mandate on two standard double situations, namely: on the one hand, the fact that Romania and Bulgaria are not part of the Schengen area – I know you have talked about this but I was wondering what is your specific contribution to this topic – and, on the other hand, that Romania and Bulgaria are the only states in the European Union with a cooperation and verification mechanism? Specifically, how can you eliminate these 2 examples of double standard?

Also, Mister President Iohannis, what can you do, perhaps together with the Romanian Government, on this matter?

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker: On July 14th, 2014 when I presented myself timidly and modestly before the European Parliament to ask European MPs to vest me, I said that during my mandate, we would proceed in such a way that Romania becomes a member of the Schengen Area, and I do not see why it cannot become a member.

And with regard to CVM, I said that I wanted this mechanism to be completed during our mandate. However, we will have to study carefully the remarks recently made by the Commission regarding Romania. I have already talked to the Government about this issue.

President of Romania Klaus Iohannis: Becoming a member or part of the Schengen area is a desiderate we had from the beginning. And we made steps in that direction.

Initially, becoming a member of the Schengen Area was subject to the fulfilment of some requirements. In 2011 we have fulfilled those requirements. But, given that the admission in the Schengen area depends on the vote of all members of the Schengen area, the first questions and the first problems started to arise, and since then, although we have fulfilled all the requirements imposed by the Schengen Agreement, neither Romania, nor Bulgaria were admitted in the Schengen Area.

Since then, we have been trying to convince our friends and partners that Romania is a serious, safe country that observes the rules imposed by the Schengen Area and which is based on the values of the European Union. Progress is still a little awaited, but personally, I have not given up and will continue to discuss with our partners to convince them that Romania does not want to become a member of the Schengen area as a problematic country, but as part of a solution to improve safety in the Schengen area.

As far as CVM is concerned, I remember very well that I had a first discussion with President Juncker after I was elected President in January 2015, and CVM was one of the first topics we discussed at that time. We both agreed that the optimal option is to complete the CVM by the end of Mr. Juncker’s mandate.

Obviously here we have to play our part, especially the Government and the Parliament – we need to find the best solutions to meet the conditions negotiated on CVM. If this is the case, I’m optimistic that we have chances to complete this CVM.

Thank you all, I wish you a good day!

Mr. President, Jean-Claude, merci beaucoup!

President of the European Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker: Merci beaucoup! Thank you very much!

 

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