As experts they chair and participate in more than 150 Council working parties and committees that prepare the COREPER and the Council of Ministers meetings. They are the “front liners” that need to be on top of all the new challenges, progress, updates and technology within their respective policy area. On Monday night at the “Meet the Experts” event organised by the Permanent Representation of Cyprus in Brussels, journalists will be able to meet some of them.
Two of the experts are Mr. Nicolas Lyrakides and Mr. Marios Stephanides. Mr. Lyrakides who is a Transport and Communications Counsellor, coordinates the team from the Ministry of Communications and Works at the Permanent Representation, while Mr. Stephanides who is a Financial Counsellor, coordinates the issues falling within ECOFIN competence.
Why is an event like “Meet the Experts” important?
Stephanides: We hope for an informal exchange of views with the press and to get to know each other a little, since our work is often intertwined. It is important to be able to explain our line of work, the reasoning and the consequences of certain votes and amendments and to make the faces behind the papers visible.
Lyrakides: It will also be a good opportunity to explain briefly to the journalists what the most important dossiers on our agendas are, to update them on the progress, to repeat our aims and objectives as the current presidency of the Council of the EU and to exchange contact details for further communication when necessary in the future.
Stephanides: All this will be done in what we hope will be a relaxed atmosphere, where everyone can also be more themselves than in a formal setting.
What are your duties as an expert?
Lyrakides: Being a Counsellor or an Attaché, i.e. an expert in your field, in a Permanent Representation in Brussels, is in itself a demanding and a multitasked role; full of responsibilities, challenges, and lot of work, study, planning, organisation, time management and meetings. We are task-oriented, not time oriented, meaning that we have no fixed working hours. If a job needs to be done, it will be done at any time and day.
How is the job different now when Cyprus holds the Presidency?
Stephanides: During the Presidency I am no longer just the representative of Cyprus. Now I need to take into consideration all 27 Member States needs and wants. Now the representation goes beyond your national positions, actually sometimes it needs to stop taking into account the national position for the sake of broader agreement. So the differences are not just in the day to day work, which is much more, even at the administrative level, but more in the point of view that you take upon things, as Presidency of the Council.
Lyrakides: It gets more serious and important. Holding the Presidency means that all the lights during that period are on you; everybody expects you to be their leader, the person to solve any problem that arises, the person to think and propose a compromise. All community legislation, regulations, directives, policy decisions, etc., are first discussed thoroughly and exhaustively in the various working groups.
For one who doesn’t know, how would you describe the role of the working parties within the Council?
Stephanides: The working parties are the place where a legislative proposal that looked perfectly fine on paper, suddenly is debated by everyone in the room, making it look like a terrible idea in the first place! Jokes aside, a working party is the perfect moment for a Member State to work on making a legislative proposal functional in its national environment. Any national considerations or worries need to be expressed here and sometimes there are very intense debates on what can and cannot be done, what needs to be done and what nobody wants to do but we all have to.
Lyrakides: Just to get an idea, there are currently more than 200 different Council groups working in Brussels. The experts sit together with the Commission and work for better regulation for the benefit of all European citizens. Through consensus among the 27 EU Member States, we try to bring in front of our Permanent Representatives in COREPER I and COREPER II, our ministers (in various Council formations), and to our Head of States, the best possible legislative proposals (in cooperation with the European Parliament, Commission and other EU Institutions and Agencies), in order to make the political agreements in a way that always supports the EU and the interests of its citizens.
What are the greatest challenges of the job?
Lyrakides: For Cyprus, it is the first time that it holds the Presidency. It is both a challenge and an opportunity for us to prove that a small country in the European periphery, despite the current financial, political and social crisis in the continent, will be able to complete its tasks successfully, take it a step further and try for a better Europe. As front liners, which are daily exposed to the various “battle fields” in the heart of Europe, we certainly feel this responsibility more than others. Additionally, it is also a great challenge, once in a life time for some of us, to behave in a responsible and professional way, to get this leading role and do the job as best as possible.
All our colleagues at the Permanent Representation are well educated and experienced, they are professionals and above all they are proud to be Cypriots and Europeans. I have full trust to all of them and I am pretty sure that at the end we will have one of the most successful presidencies.
Of course, as in every battle, the job is a team work. We could not “fight” alone. All others, being experts in Lefkosia (Nicosia), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Representatives, the ministries, assistants, and many other professionals are equally important if the mission is to be accomplished successfully. There is a need to blend knowledge, experience, organisational, political, and diplomatic skills together.
Marios, you are working with economic and financial issues. What particular challenges does the current global economic crisis put on your tasks?
Stephanides: This is a challenging time for the Union, with unprecedented pressure and ECOFIN issues are in the spotlight. This means that our agenda needs to be focused, yet at the same time we must be very flexible, since there are continuous developments that need to be monitored and it is imperative to be able to react quickly by adapting strategy. Answers need to be provided fast to quite sensitive issues and our work is constantly reviewed. In addition we have to establish new working methods and we need to combine results from many working groups as we prepare the proposals that will in the end reach the European Council.
All this poses a challenge for us, but it is of course very interesting to be coming from such a small country and having to deal with these significant issues, with the main goal of overcoming this extraordinary crisis that has been affecting everyone’s lives.