EU Country Focus BULGARIA: January – June 2018 PRESIDENCY OF THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION
1. Priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency
On January 1, 2018, a decade after its accession to the EU, Bulgaria will take over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU for the first time. For our country it is a great honour, but a great responsibility too.
For six months Bulgaria will be the main driving force for the tasks on the agenda of the Union, it will perform the functions of an honest mediator, a political leader, a representative and a coordinator. We are prepared for this, we realise it will not be easy, but we know what we want to achieve and we can do it. Our goal is to respond to the real needs of European citizens and turn challenges into opportunities.
Today, Europe needs more
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.
2. Program: “UNITED WE STAND STRONG”
Bulgaria chose its national motto as the motto of its first EU presidency for good reasons.
The main value of the European project was to wipe out division lines and unite a fractured continent around the centennial dreams of its people – of peace, freedom, democracy, prosperity and justice. EU summits in Bratislava and Rome showed clearly that despite Brexit the European dream is still alive and that a united Europe is our common destiny.
Europe continues to be the most attractive place to live world-wide, and one of its challenges, migration, provides clear evidence of that. This should make us both more proud to be Europeans and more ambitious about our Union. We believe that our European ambition should inspire not divide, it should be shared, not imposed.
In order to preserve its historical achievements and prepare for the future, Europe has to re-invent itself as it has always done throughout its six decades of integration. This will take reflection and discussions, imagination and courage, resilience and leadership. But above all, it will take a sense of common destiny and consensus.
The EU is at the doorstep of key reforms aimed at making it stronger, more united and more democratic. Bulgaria’s Presidency has four priority areas, which reflect these reforms:
- economic and social cohesion with a focus on the next EU multiannual financial framework, future Cohesion and Common Agricultural Policy, and a deeper Economic and Monetary Union;
- stability and security of Europe: common decisions on more security on the EU’s external borders, more efficient migration management, laying the foundations of a Defence Union, including through implememtation of the first EU Permanent Structured Co-operation;
- European prospects and connectivity of the Western Balkans: Bulgaria is intent on making the best use of its regional expertise, without creating any false expectations, to support EU accession-related reforms in the Western Balkan states and put them high on the EU agenda in view of the peace and stablity in that region. At the same time the Presidency will work to provide more geopolitical and economic support for the Western Balkans through improving their road, railway, air, digital, educational and energy connectility to the EU;
- digital economy and skills for the future: with a focus of completing the EU digital single market and development of digital economy and skills. This file includes the cyber security package, the copyright directive, the free flow of non-personal data, the e-communications code, e-privacy etc.
3. Trio Program:
The presidency of the Council of the European Union rotates among member-states every six months. To ensure smooth transition and continuity in the work of the Council, the presidency is held by a group of three member-states (trio) over an 18-month period. During this period the trio works closely together, sets up long-term goals and prepares a common programme.
Our country is part of the trio Estonia-Bulgaria-Austria and its programme was officially approved on 20 June 2017 in the General Affairs Council. The three countries agreed upon a positive programme focusing on security, strengthening the external borders of the EU, economic growth and competitiveness. In January 2018 Bulgaria takes over the presidency from Estonia and our country will be succeeded by Austria in July 2018.
You can read more about the presidency of the Council of the EU here.