Cyprus will use its six-month stint as EU president to encourage other member states to contribute more to resolving irregular migration difficulties.

The island’s EU presidency would also ensure “social sensitivity” guiding any response to the ongoing eurozone crisis, Cypriot President Demetris Christofias said yesterday.

Mr Christofias was addressing a joint press conference with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, held on the last day of his brief Malta visit in the build-up to Cyprus assuming the presidency on July 1.

Saying Malta and Cyprus shared “common worries and interests” over irregular migration, Mr Christofias assumed a defensive tone. “We’re not racists but we must defend the rights of our countries,” he said.

As with Malta, irregular migration ranks high among Cypriot concerns. Both island-states have insisted on increased solidarity from northern member states.

But both have received strident international criticism over their migration and integration policies.

Malta’s mandatory detention policy has drawn criticism from several quarters and a 2010 British Council report found migrants in Cyprus had the worst labour-market access across the EU.

Mr Christofias said Cypriot exposure to Greek bonds had caused its banking system great problems. But any solution to the crisis could not ignore the needs of society’s most vulnerable groups, he insisted.

Dr Gonzi said Malta and Cyprus were in “full agreement” on this issue, with the EU-wide focus on growth “moving hand-in-hand with its cohesion policy”.

“Europe needs growth,” he said. Those three words came mere hours after new economic statistics confirmed Malta had officially entered into recession, a state of affairs familiar to Mr Christofias, who has previously mooted the possibility of Cyprus tapping EU bailout funds.

After the press conference, the chairman of one of Cyprus’ largest banks said the country would require some form of EU financial assistance.

Mr Christofias briefly touched upon Turkey’s EU accession bid, saying the country would need to fulfil various obligations before joining the 27-state bloc.

The Maltese government has previously said it would be happy to welcome Turkey into the EU provided it satisfied all membership criteria. Turkey has said it will break off ties with the EU Council during the Cypriot presidency.

Dr Gonzi and Mr Christofias also discussed the future financing of the EU, concerns over mounting violence in North Africa and the possibility of further cooperation within the energy, water and tourism sectors.

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