Romania took the helm of the rotating EU Presidency, for the first time since joining the union, in January. This noteworthy event, however, was controversial from the beginning.

Prominent members of the European Commission had been quick to express doubts about Romania’s ability to assume such an important mandate.

Despite the concerns, Romania is now in its fourth month of the presidency and it’s been relatively smooth.  No problems have emerged.

The role of Romania’s Minister for European Affairs George Ciamba has been instrumental.

European Interest caught up with the minister, who has a long career in diplomacy.  He discussed the challenges his country’s presidency is facing. Brexit and the defence of EU citizens’ interests and cybersecurity threats, as well as the future enlargement policy in Western Balkans were among the topics discussed.

Minister Ciamba underlined the role of the Romanian Presidency in securing free and transparent European elections which he said “will have an impact not only on the configuration of the European Parliament, but also that of the European Commission and subsequently will influence the future of the EU and its policies”.

European Interest: Just a few days before the start of Romania’s EU Presidency, your country’s ability to take over the rotating Presidency was questioned, especially by the leadership of the European Commission. After three months of work, do you believe the arguments that had given rise to all this uncertainty have now been refuted?

George Ciamba: First of all allow me not to comment on others’ comments but to let the facts/the results speak for our capacity and ability to assume the responsibilities of the EU Council Presidency.

In this respect, the first half of our mandate proves already that the assumptions like those mentioned in your question were unfounded. We succeeded to close difficult negotiations on different files of relevant impact on citizens’ everyday life.

As expected, we have gone through a very intense and challenging period these months, bearing in mind the complex context inside and outside EU and the demanding European agenda.

Nevertheless, the results we can present today at three months and a half after taking over the Presidency are strong arguments that point to our efforts, dedication and capacity to bring the various files forward, together with all the other Member States.

For a general overview, up until now, we handled more than 1100 events and meetings: out of which approximately 660 working group meetings (in Brussels), more than 200 trilogues with the European Parliament and the European Commission on the legislative proposals in co-decision.

Moreover, 32 ministerial meetings, both formal and informal, in Brussels and Bucharest have been organized up to now under the auspices of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU and we have ensured the representation of the Council of the EU in the European Parliament plenary sessions.

Our efforts as Presidency of the EU Council translated in substantial results of the negotiations regarding the legislative files. Thus, during the first three months, we have succeeded to finalise the negotiations on a number of 90 legislative files.

At the same time, a significant part of the activity of the Presidency is also dedicated to the non-legislative dimension, namely discussion on political files, drafting the Council Conclusions on various topic of common interest and preparing the EU position within various international fora. On this side, during the first three months we have conducted the negotiation and adoption of 24 Council Conclusions on different topics of interest at EU level.

For a general overview, up until now, we handled more than 1100 events and meetings: out of which approximately 660 working group meetings (in Brussels), more than 200 trilogues with the European Parliament and the European Commission on the legislative proposals in co-decision

Among the most important legislative and non-legislative files concluded, we can mention: the Natural Gas Directive, the Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market; the Regulation establishing European Labour Authority, the Consumers Package,  the Regulations Package on interoperability of the informatic systems of the EU; the legislative proposal regarding the consolidation of European Border and Coast Guard Agency, the Banking Package, the legislative package on Capital Markets Union, amending the Regulation on the status and financing of European political parties and foundations; Council Conclusions on securing free and fair elections, with a focus on countering disinformation, Council Conclusions on artificial intelligence, Council Conclusions on 2030 Agenda.

Despite the limited legislative window due to upcoming European elections and the different, sometimes even divergent, interests of the Member States, the Romanian Presidency has managed to conclude work on a number of key policy areas that can deliver real benefits for Europe’s citizens. This performance has been acknowledged both by the Member States and by the representatives of the European institutions.

As we have succeeded to deliver such important results during a rather short period of time, we are confident that the months to follow will be of as much importance as the ones that have just finished. We will continue to work assiduously with the non-legislative files equally important and complex in order to reach our common European objectives.

It will also be during the Romanian Presidency that the EU holds elections for the European Parliament. Why do you think is the vote considered to be of such great importance for the future of the Union?

From the first days of our European mandate, it was our main priority and responsibility as Presidency of the Council of the European Union to work towards securing a proper regulatory framework that would enable free, transparent and democratic elections. We are happy that Romania’s Presidency of the EU Council has managed to foster concrete actions in order to ensure free and fair European elections, and, in the longer term, to enhance cooperation and preparedness for more comprehensive actions against disinformation.

Indeed, the upcoming elections in May 2019 must be free, transparent and democratic, because they are truly crucial for the future of the European Union. They will have an impact not only on the configuration of the European Parliament, but also that of the European Commission and subsequently will influence the future of the EU and its policies.

While this is undoubtedly a common feature of the European elections, given the rise of Eurosceptic, populist and extremist tendencies and narratives, it is clear that we have to better build our discourse based on the undeniable added-value of the European integration project and to follow a positive, consensual and result-oriented agenda.

the upcoming elections in May 2019 will have an impact not only on the configuration of the European Parliament, but also that of the European Commission and subsequently will influence the future of the EU and its policies

Voter’s mobilization is also crucial. Though the EP has gradually attained more competences in the EU institutional framework, none of the improvements could stop so far a decline in voters’ turnout. At this point of time, in the context of Brexit and after a series of crisis the EU faced, the surveys suggest a possible more positive outcome: voter’s turnout might reverse this negative trend and exceed the turnout of 2014 (42.62%). Getting people, the European citizen vote in the EP elections is our major political objective. It is also important to be able to diminish the impact of the Eurosceptic voices in the future European Parliament.

The European Parliament should be in the future a strong institutional partner of the Council  and should continue to advocate for the consolidation of the European Union. The political mandate for this to happen should come from the forthcoming EU elections.

During the Delphi Forum in Greece, you said you are against a two-speed Europe. What kind of Europe would you like?

As I said in Delphi, the debate on multi-speed visions, Europe à la carte etc. are part of the debate on the European future. The idea of a number of closer groups on some areas of further integration might seem practical, even natural. However, these multiple speeds or core groups should be considered only in thematic terms and levels of commitment – not exclusionary, not à la carte. There should be no peripheries in the Europe Union, if Europe is to remain the united Europe we know and we have joined.

It is essential to use variable speeds scenarios and flexibility with great caution, as they could fuel the logic of “core vs. periphery”. The EU should aim for as much unity as possible and as much flexibility as strictly necessary to fulfil the objectives that are common for all Member States. It is important not to create new dividing lines between member states, in a context that requires from us to demonstrate, more than ever, unity and the capacity to reach consensus on major dossiers at European level. Even the concurrence of the two grand approaches towards the European project, the intergovernmental and community method, share the same major objectives: prosperity, security, sustainable development, common values, including cohesion. The only future I can envisage, therefore, for the European Union, is the one built on these values.

Brexit is one of the major issues facing the Romanian Presidency. As regards Romania, is your country prepared for the worst case scenario? Are the rights of the Romanian citizens in the UK secured?

Brexit was indeed one of the biggest challenges on the agenda of our Presidency. In this capacity, we have been working tirelessly with the European Commission in order to facilitate the dialogue between institutions and support a successful conclusion of the Withdrawal Agreement. With the extension the withdrawal date to the end of October we remain hopeful that the Withdrawal Agreement will be ratified by the British Parliament in the near future, after which we can start building our future partnership with the UK. During these past months, as Presidency, we have been focusing our efforts on making certain that the EU27 are ready for any scenario, including a no-deal outcome. In less than three months, we managed to adopt 14 legislative proposals guaranteeing there will be no cliff-edge immediately after the withdrawal date. We strongly believe citizens should not pay the cost of Brexit. In order to guarantee this objective, in addition to the measures taken at the European level, Member States were encouraged to take all the necessary preparations at the national level. Romania is committed to ensuring the highest level of protection possible both for Romanian citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in Romania. In a no-deal scenario citizens’ rights will be protected through unilateral contingency measures. In Romania, we have been preparing for all possible Brexit outcomes ever since August last year. In the past weeks we have drafted relevant legislation, aiming to protect the rights of UK citizens in Romania, based on the principle of reciprocity. The rights of Romanian, and EU citizens, living in the UK will continue to be protected after Brexit, even in case of a no-deal scenario. We have already received public assurances from the British government that these rights will be secured through the EU settlement scheme. We are closely following the implementation of this scheme and we are in constant contact with our British partners in order to ensure that all Romanian citizens in the UK will be able to continue living, working and studying in the UK without any major difficulties.

Security is another issue of major concern for this presidency. What does Europe need to do to prepare against interferences and cyber-attacks?

The European Union developed a wide range of concrete measures to further strengthen the EU’s cybersecurity structures and capabilities with more cooperation between the Member States and the different EU structures concerned.

When setting out, at the beginning of January 2019, our 6-monthly program for EU Council Presidency, we have identified cybersecurity among our top priorities.

The ambitious cybersecurity package presented by the Commission in September 2017 was followed by a set of Council conclusions and an Action Plan for their implementation. They emphasize the need to enhance the EU’s capacity to prevent, deter and respond to cyber attacks.

The measures will ensure a better preparedness to face the ever-increasing cybersecurity challenges, through resilience, in order to protect its citizens effectively by anticipating possible cybersecurity incidents, building strong protection in its structures and behavior, by recovering quickly from any cyber-attacks, and by deterring those responsible.

We are strengthening, also, at EU level the tools for responding to the possible risks that certain investments could pose to our security or essential interests of the Union

The Cybersecurity Act, an important part of that package, has just been formally adopted. This will create a strong and permanent mandate for ENISA, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity, and enhance EU cybersecurity certification.

The Commission is already helping to reinforce the EU’s deterrence, resilience and response to cyber-attacks by supporting the effective implementation of the first EU cybersecurity law: the Directive on Security of Network and Information Systems (NIS Directive).

Building on the ambitious cybersecurity initiatives announced in 2017, the European Commission proposed and took measures for the creation of a Network of Cybersecurity Competence Centers and a new European Cybersecurity Industrial, Technology and Research Competence Centre to invest in stronger and pioneering cybersecurity in the EU.

The mission of this proposal is to help the EU retain and develop the cybersecurity technological and industrial capacities necessary to keep its digital single market secure. This goes hand in hand with the key objective of increasing the competitiveness of the EU’s cybersecurity industry and turning cybersecurity into a competitive advantage of other European industries.

Thus, the Council is making progress in the discussions on the proposal for a Regulation establishing the European Cybersecurity Industrial, Technology and Research Competence Centre and Network of Coordination Centres. Under the Romanian Presidency to EU Council we have reached the general approach on this important file, continuing now the trialogue negotiations.

Furthermore, the EU has stepped up its response by adopting also “Cyber diplomacy toolbox”. This framework offers the full use of measures within the Common Foreign and Security Policy, including, if necessary, restrictive measures.

Building security in cyberspace requires full implementation of the EU Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox and we work to finalize under the RO Presidency to EU Council the EU cyber sanctions regime, supporting cooperation between member states on attribution as well.

We underline the key importance of increasing the EU capacity to deter and to respond to cyber-attacks in view of securing the future European electoral process

A common and comprehensive approach for cyber diplomacy will contribute to the “mitigation of cybersecurity threats, conflict prevention and greater stability in international relations through the use of diplomatic and legal instruments”.

We underline also the key importance of increasing the EU capacity to deter and to respond to cyber-attacks in view of securing the future European electoral process.

On 19 February 2019, the General Affairs Council adopted Conclusions on securing free and fair European elections. The conclusions covered a number of non-legislative actions to be taken in order to tackle disinformation campaigns from inside and outside the EU and increase data protection and cybersecurity in the run-up to the European elections.

We are strengthening, also, at EU level the tools for responding to the possible risks that certain investments could pose to our security or essential interests of the Union.

In conclusion, Europe is putting in place a framework of measures that are both credible and dissuasive for would-be cyber criminals and attackers. It calls for close cooperation and coordination among EU Member States. Although all Member States have a cybersecurity strategy, the levels of maturity of adequate incident response capabilities vary among them and the measures established do not fully overcome the fragmentation between individual Member States.

In order to effectively tackle the challenge posed by cyber-attacks, not only do proper deterrence and cybersecurity measures need to be in place, but resilient societies and systems are also particularly important. Besides all the technical developments and counter-strategies, this requires above all a high degree of self-awareness regarding this top security challenge of the 21st century, which needs to be jointly addressed by the EU and its Member States.

Sharing a common, high-level goal – the security of our societies – the cybersecurity community, law enforcement, the military and intelligence services increasingly work together on cyber matters. Only by involving all relevant stakeholders can the EU hope to achieve a safer cyberspace.

It is necessary to promote the exchange of information and good practices but also the development of a culture of risk management and risk assessment together with the implementation of appropriate cyber security measures.

Over the past year, security problems connected with 5G technology emerged in many EU countries. And China is a market leader. How is your presidency addressing this issue? 

In the light of the challenges and opportunities posed by the digital transformation and the rise of the data economy, under the Romanian Presidency to EU Council, the EU Heads of States and Governments gave the support to the European Council on 22 March 2019 for the need to secure the digital economy with world-class connectivity, with a special emphasis put on access to and use of data, on data security and on Artificial Intelligence, in an environment of trust, calling for the European Commission recommendation on a set of concrete actions to assess cyber security risks of 5G networks and to strengthen preventive measures.

To this regard, the European Commission recommended further a concerted approach to the security of 5G networks, besides the existing relevant legislation regarding GDPR, NIS directive, electronic communications code, already providing a basis for Member States to take decisions while taking into account security dimensions. With the new recommendation, the EU is reinforcing the existing framework in order to have a more coordinated and more common approach, based on 3 steps towards a tool box of measures to be taken at both national and European level, to mitigate security threats and to develop minimum standards for the cyber security of 5G networks across the EU.

The discussion on these recommendations have already started at the level of the Horizontal Working Party on Cyber Issues and NIS Cooperation Group.

The cybersecurity of 5G networks is key for ensuring the strategic autonomy of the Union

The cybersecurity of 5G networks is key for ensuring the strategic autonomy of the Union, as recognized- in the Joint Communication “EU-China, a Strategic Outlook”. The European Parliament’s resolution on security threats connected with the rising Chinese technological presence in the Union also called on the Commission and Member States to take action at Union level.

The Commission Recommendation on Cybersecurity of 5G networks addresses cybersecurity risks in 5G networks by setting out guidance on appropriate risk analysis and management measures at national level, on developing a coordinated European risk assessment and on establishing a process to develop a common toolbox of best risk management measures

The future European cybersecurity certification framework based on Cybersecurity Act should provide, also, an essential supporting tool to promote consistent levels of security. It will allow for the development of cybersecurity certification schemes to respond to the needs of users of 5G-related equipment and software.

The development of relevant European cybersecurity certification schemes for information and communications technologies’ products, services or processes used for 5G networks is becoming a priority.

We have to actively engage in the development of such certification schemes, including providing support for the definition of specific protection profiles for 5G networks.

Has the Romanian Presidency made any progress in relation to the enlargement process in the Western Balkans? The European Parliament backed visa liberalization for Kosovo, the only Western Balkan country that does not enjoy such a service. Will the Romanian Presidency try to resolve the problem?

Romania strongly supports the EU Enlargement Process, a driving force of democratic change, that brings stability and prosperity to our neighborhood. We are committed to advance this dossier as one of Romania’s priorities as an EU Council Presidency. The perspective of EU membership has proven to have a great transformative effect on the region. The most visible is the example of our friends in Skopje, which proves what a spectacular progress can be achieved when there is a strong commitment and political will to move in the right direction. We are strongly committed to continue to promote EU enlargement, clearly based on the principle of individual merits, as, in our view, this is the main way we can contribute to the stability and prosperity of the Western Balkans.

Concerning visa liberalization, we are very much aware of the relevance of this topic for Kosovo inhabitants. We will tackle the matter as an honest broker, while taking into account the status neutral approach agreed by the EU and the necessary procedural steps at the level of the Council, as well as the specific decision-making rules.