Commissioner Breton on research, development and single market ahead of his visit to Cyprus

Cyprus has taken steps in promoting research and development, while Cypriot companies are also involved in European projects supporting the EU defence industry, the Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, has said.

His comments were part of a written interview with the Cyprus News Agency, ahead of his visit to Cyprus on 21 June where he will meet with officials to discuss issues of defence, cybersecurity and industrial competitiveness.

Breton noted that Cyprus is active in attracting funding to support research and innovation, noting that the country ranks third in terms of EU contribution per capita, with 194 euro per inhabitant. 

Speaking about the role the country can also play in the development of the European defence industry, he noted that Cypriot companies are already participating in EU projects in this field.

He also said that Cyprus has used the Single Market to develop the tourism and shipping sectors despite its small size, underlining the importance of the EU’s investment-friendly business environment which allows the bloc to be bigger than the sum of its parts.

Finally, in relation to tackling disinformation on the internet, an effort in which he has been particularly active through the promotion of the Digital Services Act, Breton listed the measures taken by the EU to support media literacy, and recalled that citizens in Cyprus are also aware of the risk of disinformation through social media.

Breton will be in Cyprus on Friday, and is scheduled to meet with the President of the Republic, Nicos Christodoulides, the Minister of Defence, Vasilis Palmas and the Minister of Energy, Trade and Industry, George Papanastasiou.

Single Market an opportunity for smaller member states

Commissioner Breton referred to the ways in which the Single Market has given Cyprus the opportunity to strengthen its tourism and maritime sectors, comparing this with other cases involving other small member states.

Responding to a question on how small states can maximise their potential within the single market and overcome difficulties caused due to their size, Breton noted that the Single Market gives 440 million EU citizens access to the widest possible choice of products, services and ideas, making the EU “the world’s largest trading bloc”, whose businesses account “for one fourth of global exports in services and one fifth in high-tech goods”, as well as an attractive destination for foreign investment.

Noting that the EU’s stable macroeconomic framework and high-quality infrastructure “support an investment - friendly business environment” rooted in “a strong social market economy model”, the Commissioner said that the Single Market is an area of freedom, progress, opportunity, growth, shared prosperity, resilience and a means of geopolitical projection which “allows Europe to be bigger than the sum of its parts”.

“The Single Market, including the Economic and Monetary Union, has given Cyprus the opportunity and scale to exploit its tourism or shipping sectors, for instance, contributing to its status as one of the most affluent countries in southern Europe”, Thierry Breton underlined.

“We see similar success stories in other small EU countries: MAERSK of Denmark is a global shipping giant and ASML of the Netherlands makes the photolithography machines used in the production of computer chips” he added.

“Neither company would have been able to become large and specialised had they been confined to their home markets” he noted.

According to the French Commissioner, “working on the Single Market is a never-ending story”. “We need to continue promoting common rules and European investment, to prevent a race for subsidies and ensure a level playing field among all 27 EU Member States and their regions, regardless of their fiscal space” he said.

“We need to remain vigilant that commonly agreed rules are applied on the ground. And we urgently need bold steps to further integrate our Single Market in crucial areas such as capital markets, energy and telecoms” he stressed.

Cyprus third in EU funding on research per capita

“Cyprus clearly recognises the key importance of research and innovation for economic growth and social prosperity”, Breton said responding to a question on assessing the progress made in the country after the creation in recent years of the Deputy Ministry for Research and Innovation.

The Commissioner recalled that key actions under the new Deputy Ministry include the design and early implementation of a Research and Innovation Strategy for the period 2024 - 2026, “which aims to cultivate R&I culture, upgrade the national research capacity for sustainable development and facilitate the exploitation and commercialisation of research results”.

“The implementation of this Strategy will help solidify some of the key innovation strengths of the country while addressing the need to increase R&D (Research & Development) investment in Cyprus” he said.

He noted that NextGenerationEU and Horizon Europe, the EU research and innovation programme, offer significant opportunities, and that so far Cyprus “has attracted more than 243 million euro in funding from Horizon Europe”. “In EU contribution per inhabitant, Cyprus is in 3rd position with 194 euro per inhabitant” he stressed.

The Commissioner underlined that he wants to sent the message to all EU countries that Europe has “incredible assets”, such as “highly qualified engineers, excellence in research, quality infrastructure, a solid manufacturing base and a strong services sector”, adding “let’s make the most of it!”

“Some will tell us that we should focus on research or produce well-established technology, and leave the commercialisation of ground-breaking advanced technology to others. But, be it clean technologies, semiconductors, quantum or artificial intelligence, I am convinced that we now have the vision and the means to lead on the markets of the future!” he stressed.

Cyprus is active in EU projects for the defence industry

The Commissioner for the Internal Market was also asked how Cyprus could contribute in the wider effort to develop Europe’s defence industry, and even though he avoided to refer to specific sectors, he noted that the important thing is for Cypriot companies to participate in the european ecosystem, adding that this is already happening.

“It’s not for me to tell Cypriot companies which domain they should invest into. But I can tell them: ‘be part of the European defence industry ecosystem’”, Breton stressed.

He added that already the EU’s instruments for supporting defence industry competitiveness and innovation, especially the European Defence Fund, have “so far funded 17 Cypriot companies with about 25 million euro, for their participation in 35 projects”.

“Cypriot companies were present in 16% of the projects we have funded”, a share which corresponds to “25 out of 220” as the Commissioner said.

Breton pointed out that the new European Defence Investment Programme will prolong this support for industrialization and production ramp-up, and that the Commission has proposed a 1.5 billion euro budget until 2027.

“So there are opportunities to seize, either to increase Cypriot industrial capability building (through joint procurement for instance) and for Cypriot industries (by supporting industry along the supply chain)” he explained.

Cypriots recognise the dangers of disinformation

Cypriots realise that disinformation is the most serious threat to democracy and that they are likely to encounter it on social media, Thierry Breton commented responding to a question on how the EU can help in practice in dealing with issues such as low media literacy, narratives amplified by political populism and the under-staffing of media organisations.

“Disinformation is a complex phenomenon. It has always existed in the offline world, but the digital era has allowed disinformation to proliferate and flourish online, especially on social media platforms” Breton noted, referring to the impact disinformation can have on the ability of citizens to take informed decisions, ultimately eroding trust in democracies.

“And citizens know it. According to the Eurobarometer, Cypriots see disinformation as the most serious threat to democracy and believe they are most likely to encounter disinformation on online social networks” he added.

This is the reason, he continued, that the Commission has from the beginning of its mandate acted “to equip ourselves with the tools to fight online disinformation effectively. This is a key priority for us”.

As a first example, Breton referred to the Digital Services Act (DSA) with which “we have put in place a regulatory framework to make sure that online platforms have a legal responsibility to address the risk of disinformation and do their job effectively”.

“The fight against disinformation is key in our enforcement of the DSA and we have already started enforcement actions against X (Twitter), Facebook and Instagram” he added.

“Second, we are working to support media freedom and pluralism to offer our citizens a more robust and resilient media environment, capable of withstanding the pressures of disinformation and providing with reliable information sources” continued the Commissioner for the Internal Market.

“We do this with regulatory tools, such as the European Media Freedom Act, but also funding instruments with a budget more than 70 million euro for the period 2021 - 2027” he explained.

“We also support media literacy practitioners, independent fact-checkers and academic researchers through the financing of the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO), whose work is crucial to debunk and expose false claims, provide more insight in the phenomenon of disinformation and support media literacy initiatives” he also said.

Last but not least, he noted, the Commission works with Member States and other stakeholders “to promote measures for the development of media literacy and digital skills, ensuring that citizens of all ages can effectively use, understand, and critically assess online content”.

Breton pointed out that the EU funds several media literacy projects through the Erasmus and the Creative Europe Programme, and that through its Digital Decade strategy the EU has set a target to have 80% of the population with at least a basic level of digital skills in 2030.

Cyprus is strongly committed to this objective with 22 million euro of planned investments, of which 14 million euro will be supported by the EU with the Recovery and Resilience Facility, Breton said.

(Source: CNA)

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