On January 1 2018, Bulgaria will take over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU for the first time. Bulgaria is part of the trio Estonia- Bulgaria-Austria. Together, they will be responsible for the EU Council’s work and implementation of the common agenda.
Over next six months, Bulgaria will be the main driving force for the tasks on the agenda of the Union. Bulgarian Presidency agenda reads that its main goal will be to “to respond to the real needs of European citizens and turn challenges into opportunities“ and work towards:
- Secure Europe, because the migration crisis and the terrorist acts over the past years have shown how vulnerable we are;
- Stable Europe, because the citizens want to know that the European Union is taking care of their prosperity and wellbeing;
- Solidary Europe, because all member states are faced with the main challenges and they can be overcome only with joint action, not at national or local level.
The agenda further reads that “the key to attaining our common goals is unity. It is not by chance that we chose ‘United We Stand Strong’ for our slogan. This is the motto of our National Assembly and of the Coat of Arms of the Republic of Bulgaria. This will be the slogan of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU 2018, which our country will follow in each action as rotational President. We will work for unity between the member states, as well as between the European institutions.”
Priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency are:
The future of Europe and of the young people – economic growth and social cohesion
Economic growth and social cohesion are key to the future of Europe. There is some good news for the Union in the forecasts – the European economy is speeding up, more jobs are being created, investment is growing, public finances are becoming stronger. Still, there are some challenges – high levels of debt, small increase in salaries. We shall overcome these challenges together. It is important that the member states’ economies continue to grow, it is important that all EU states participate in the debate on the reforms of the Eurozone as equals, regardless of whether they are members of the latter or not.
The future of the Union is to continue the efforts for social cohesion. The Cohesion Policy provides a real added value for EU citizens and is a proven example of a working instrument for reducing the differences between us, which guarantees the success of the European model. This is why our Presidency will work for an active and constructive debate on the Multiannual Financial Framework. We are aware that the world is changing, and overcoming the challenges requires resources. We are convinced that we have to look for a balance between the new funds and the already existing ones, between the financial instruments and the grant financing.
European Perspective and Connectivity of the Western Balkans
When talking about united Europe, we should not forget that the Western Balkans need a clear European perspective and connectivity between them and with the member states. The ambition of the Bulgarian Presidency is to achieve a clear action plan with each of the countries, without creating unrealistic expectations, but with concrete steps. This is the way to have long lasting peace, security and prosperity in the region. The goal is to provide connectivity to the Western Balkan countries – transport, air, energy, educational and digital. Bulgaria invests consequent efforts in this direction, for example by promoting the digital policies of the EU among the countries in the Western Balkans through gradual reduction of roaming charges and by increasing the possibilities for broadband internet access.
Security and stability in a strong and united Europe
Security and migration policies are some of the topics on which we need consensus and joint efforts. The Bulgarian Presidency will work towards long lasting and fair solutions in the area of asylum policy, for efficient policies for return and readmission, for a balanced approach between short and long-term measures aiming at the source of migration, not only at the consequences thereof. European citizens need security and stability and without these, European values are difficult to attain. This is why great emphasis in our efforts will be given to security, whereby we will focus on strengthening the border controls, on the exchange of information between the various bodies, and on prevention. It is important to work towards efficient, fast and fair justice.
Digital economy and skills for the future
Europe’s role in the rapidly developing world is directly linked to the competitiveness of the European economy. The single digital market, the access to innovation, the link between education and the requirements of the future labour market are at the basis of technological development. It is not by chance they are a major element of the programme of the Trio of the Presidencies – Estonia-Bulgaria- Austria and a priority of the Bulgarian Presidency. Electronic communication, providing transboundary services
particularly to the SMEs, copy rights, e-privacy and cyber security are some of the items on the agenda that need to be decided upon. Linking the education of the young people with learning “the skills for the future” is the way to achieve a competitive, flexible and successful Europe.
The focus of all our action will be young people. We are responsible to them where we are leading our Union. They are our common investment in the future; they should be given the opportunities of education and development. Fostering early childhood development, modernization of the European educational systems and curricula, strengthening social inclusion through formal and informal learning – these are some of the tasks that should not be put off. Today, in the time of information and communication technologies, more than ever before it is a conditio sine qua non for these technologies to be widely introduced at all levels of the educational system.
The Presidency and EU
The Council of the European Union is one of the main institutions of the Community. Together with the European Parliament, it discusses and adopts laws based on proposals from the European Commission.
The Council of the European Union coordinates the policies of the member states, develops the foreign policy and security policy of the Union, concludes agreements on behalf of the EU with other countries or international organisations and jointly with the European Parliament adopts the EU annual budget.
The Council consists of one representative from each member state –at ministerial level-the minister responsible for a given policy area represents his or her country and speaks for it in the Council. The Council meets in different configurations depending on the issues under discussion. The Council has 10 configurations, which cover all policies of the EU.
The presidency of the Council of the European Union works on a rotation basis. Each member state holds the presidency for a period of six months. The exception is the foreign affairs configuration chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. To ensure continuity in the work of the Council, the presidency is held by a group of three member-states, known as a trio, for a period of 18 months. The trio prepares and implements a common agenda. Bulgaria is part of the trio Estonia-Bulgaria-Austria and will take over the presidency from Estonia in January 2018.
The Council of the European Union differs from the European Council, which is made up of the heads of state or government of all member states. The European Council defines the general political direction and priorities of the EU and supports the Council of the European Union in developing common policies at high level.
The Treaty of Lisbon introduced the institution of a permanent President of the European Council. The current president is Donald Tusk. His role is to seek consensus between European Council members, facilitates cooperation with the president of the European Commission, report to the European parliament about the activities of the European Council and represent the EU at high level international meetings.