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Christofias feels the heat in Strasbourg
DEMETRIS Christofias was forced to go on the defensive yesterday at the European Parliament when several MEPs took pot shots at Cyprus over money laundering allegations, and at the Cypriot president’s own communist background.
Christofias was in Strasbourg for a review of the Cyprus EU presidency where he told European lawmakers he believed austerity was the wrong approach to the financial crisis.
"It‘s my firm conviction that unilateral policies of austerity are a guaranteed recipe for failure, only succeeding in making the rich richer and the poor poorer," Christofias said.
"The technocrats who represent the troika promote the same old failed recipes of one-sided strict austerity, leading millions of European citizens into poverty, deprivation and social exclusion," he added.
During his address, Christofias Christofias had to endure criticism and the sarcastic remarks from a Belgian MP, who even addressed him in Russian.
A member of the conservatives, Belgian MEP Derk Jan-Eppink, asked Christofias whether Europe was bailing out Cyprus or “Russian billionaires?”
“Mr President you are going from the [Russian] rouble to the rubble,” said Eppink, who also spoke about Christofias’ communist background.
Another MEP censured Eppink, describing his manner as “extremely impolite and aggressive.” Responding to Eppink, Christofias suggested that some people must “shake off the communist fixation.”
“Yes, I said I am proud to be a communist and I continue to be proud and will be so until the end of my life because I believe the mistake is not the ideology but the way some people put this ideology to practice,” the president said. “In any case, do we have freedom of expression in the EU or don’t we?”
Corien Wortmann-Kool, on behalf of the conservative European People‘s Party said a new government was needed in Cyprus “to give the Cypriot citizens a new perspective."
“There has to be a credible plan to allow the Cypriot government to get its house in order ... This government hasn‘t been in a position to do that,’ she said.
Greens leader Rebecca Harms, who is German, also took a shot over tax evasion and money laundering. "Cyprus is a country that enables tax refugees to settle, ... that makes tax injustice possible," she said.
Christofias responded to the criticisms saying: “How shall we say it so it is understood? No money laundering is taking place in Cyprus”.
He put the criticism down to misinformation and the not-so-good will of people with their own agendas. “I am saying this in all honesty because we are the victims of the domestic disputes in various large countries,” Christofias said. “This should stop. You must respect a small country suffering from (military) occupation.”
Germany, Europe's paymaster, has expressed concerns about providing bailout funds for Cyprus because of a lack of transparency in its financial sector. The island is considered a popular tax haven for wealthy Russians.
During a press conference afterwards with European Parliament president Martin Schulz, , the president said Cyprus met more requirements on money laundering than countries “whose representatives accuse us of money laundering.”
“Unfortunately, while we have taken tough measures, which other countries have not taken, there is a rumour, which is not true. It is unfair,” he said.
Regarding the island’s bailout, Christofias said he handed a letter to the European Commission, asking that Cypriot banks were directly recapitalised by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) -- at least the €4.5 billion lost after the write-down to Greece’s debt.
“I believe that the fair thing is this part of the recapitalisation should be direct without burdening Cyprus’ public debt,” he said.
Christofias said his government was ready to sign a bailout agreement whenever international lenders were.
If not then it would be the job of the new government “not because we want to shift responsibilities on to the next government but because we need to reach specific amounts and agree with the people giving us the loan.”
Still pending is the amount needed to recapitalise the banks, which the two sides disagree on.
He blamed the drawn-out negotiations on the troika, saying that disagreements remained on how large the bailout should be.
"The delays ... are not at the door of the government of Cyprus, but rather the IMF believes that our needs are maximum needs. We believe that they are lower. We are now awaiting clarification of the situation so that we can confirm finally what the exact figure is,” he said.