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Bulgarian Presidency Priorities Discussed in Committees

The priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers are being outlined to parliamentary committees by ministers in a series of meetings.

Bulgaria is holding the Presidency of the Council for the first time. It will last until end of June 2018.

Constitutional Affairs: Transparency Register, European Citizens’ initiative, electoral law

Achieving progress on the inter-institutional agreement on a mandatory Transparency Register and the European Citizens’ initiative were some of the priorities outlined by Deputy Minister for the Bulgarian Presidency Monika Panayotova in a debate with the Constitutional Affairs Committee on 22 January. Ms. Panayotova also said that the Bulgarian government is committed to advancing with several other files, such as the reform of the European electoral law.

On this last point, Ms. Panayotova said: “The discussions led by successive presidencies have confirmed the difficulties with this file in the Council, but our Presidency will carry on the discussions and hopefully come back with a proposal”.

Industry, Research and Energy: Clean energy package, digital single market and cybersecurity act

The Presidency wants to take into account the specific needs of each member state when it comes to energy legislation, Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova told the Industry, Research and Energy Committee on 23 January. Renewables, energy efficiency and the governance of the Energy Union also play a crucial role for the Bulgarian Presidency. Transport, Information Technologies and Communications Minister Ivaylo Moskovski also pointed out the importance of completing the digital single market and the Cybersecurity Act.

MEPs welcomed the Presidency’s approach of focusing on the development of electronic communications in the EU. They emphasised the Parliament’s ambition regarding the directives in the Clean Energy for All Europeans package, while also stating the need for a bigger consensus and stronger measures at member state level.

Employment and Social Affairs: posting of workers, work-life balance, people with disabilities

Improving employment opportunities, creating better links between skills, education and labour markets, preventing child poverty and solving the problems of people with disabilities are among the priorities, Labour and Social Policy Minister Biser Petkov told the Employment and Social Affairs Committee on 23 January. During the next six months, the Presidency will focus on strengthening the social dimension of the EU, with citizens as a focal point, he added.

The Presidency will strive to finalise the negotiations with the Parliament on the posting of workers directive and advance on two other important legislative proposals, work-life balance for parents and carers, and the coordination of social security systems.

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality: tackling the gender pay gap

Emphasising the role of women in the digital and ICT sectors, breaking the deadlock on the directive on gender balance among non-executive directors of companies and tackling the gender pay gap are among the Presidency’s priorities, Labour and Social Policy Minister Biser Petkov told the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee on 24 January.

Mr. Petkov, despite doubts voiced by some MEPs, also declared he would fight for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention (on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence), which so far has only been ratified by 17 Member States.

Economic and Monetary Affairs: tax haven list, Banking Union, Eurozone

The Bulgarian Presidency favours greater transparency surrounding the EU’s list of tax havens, the country’s finance minister and new ECOFIN President Vladislav Goranov told the Economics Committee. Questioned by MEPs, the Finance Minister said information surrounding the tax haven list had to be “sufficiently public to be sufficiently credible.” He added that a high-level working party in the Council was following the commitments made by countries which had been removed from the list, but if they failed to live up to their promises, he warned that “we reserve the right to return them to the list.”

MEPs also raised a number of varied inquiries, which ranged from completion of the Banking Union, reform of the corporate tax base in the EU, to Sofia’s ambition to join the Eurozone.

Regional Development: the debate on the post-2020 cohesion policy should start

Cohesion policy is one of the most successful policies in the EU, as it balances out the imperfections of the common market and makes the EU stronger, said Deputy Prime Minister for EU funds Tomislav Donchev, on 24 January to the Regional Development Committee. Mr Donchev stressed the need to start talks on the post-2020 priorities and policies, ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of all investments and cut red tape.

All EU citizens must have the same standards of living and cohesion policy is a crucial tool to this end, since it helps achieve the much-needed convergence between EU regions, he added.

Development: building resilience in partnering countries and granting universal access to education

The Presidency wants to focus on common action from all member states to increase coherence, efficiency and collectiveness on EU humanitarian policies, Foreign Affairs Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva told the Development Committee on 24 January. Combatting sexual and gender-based violence and allocating robust resources on training the institutions in least developed countries to build resilience are also priorities for the Bulgarian Presidency.

Specific support to grant access to education to children in situations of crisis, like those living in refugee camps, should be one of the biggest priorities for the Presidency, MEPs said.

Fisheries: sustainable management of stocks and vitality of the sector

The activities of the Presidency will focus on the sustainable management of European fisheries, guaranteeing the preservation of fish stocks without overlooking the vitality of the sector, said Agriculture, Food and Forestry Minister Rumen Porodzanov on 24 January to the Fisheries Committee. Mr Porodzanov said the Presidency will, inter alia, make real progress in the negotiations on the Technical measures regulation, following Parliament’s mandate adopted on 16 January, and also follow progress on the new multiannual fisheries plans, which are “a pillar for the new Common Fisheries Policy”.

“It is necessary for the EU to continue to have an ambitious approach to its policies relating to the preservation and sustainable management of fishing stocks, including the Mediterranean and the Black Sea”, he said.

Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs: EU Asylum System, Public Prosecutor

Developing the recently agreed European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) and fostering its potential synergies with other EU bodies such as Europol, Eurojust and OLAF will be a priority, Justice Minister Tsetska explained on 11 January.

Interior Minister Valentin Radev said the Presidency will try to advance towards completing the reform of the Common European Asylum System and that he trusts “we can find a solution to Dublin”. On security, he cited border strengthening, enhanced information exchange and preventing radicalisation as key factors.  

International trade: talks with Australia and New Zealand, foreign direct investment

Strengthening the EU’s leading role, by, for example, concluding a trade deal with Mercosur states as well as launching talks with Australia and New Zealand are among the priorities, said Economy Minister Emil Karanikolov on 22 January. The Presidency also aims to make progress on the screening of foreign direct investment (FDI) and the export control of dual-use items.

Welcoming this agenda, some MEPs hoped for visible progress in EU trade deals, especially with Singapore and Vietnam, and that the Council would swiftly agree a position on FDI screening, dual-use goods and international public procurement. They also called for full disclosure of the EU negotiating mandates.

Internal Market: boosting the free movement of goods and services in a digital world

The Presidency aims to tackle remaining barriers to the free movement of goods and services, in line with the Single Market and the Digital Single Market strategies, said Economy Minister Emil Karanikolov, on 23 January. The Presidency will oversee three-way talks among MEPs, ministers and EU Commission officials on, for instance, contract rules for digital content, sales of tangible goods and fertilisers, he added.

Transport, Information Technology and Communications Minister Ivaylo Moskovski stressed the need to improve digital skills, ensure the free flow of data, and boost the use of digital public services. The Presidency aims to conclude talks with MEPs, ministers and the EU Commission on the European Accessibility Act and have the Council approve a general approach on the proposed Cybersecurity Act, he told MEPs.

Foreign Affairs: bringing Western Balkans closer to the EU

EU-related reforms and connectivity of the six Western Balkan countries wishing to join the EU will be at the core of Presidency’s work, Foreign Affairs Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva told the Foreign Affairs Committee on 23 January. The EU Commission’s new EU enlargement strategy “should be inclusive and give an EU perspective to all Western Balkan countries”, she added. MEPs underlined that they expect further concrete steps, i.e. the opening of negotiating chapters.

Bulgaria will also have a close look at the EU’s next long-run budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). “This important instrument is a matter of security and stability for the EU. If in the next MFF we don’t see Instrument for the Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) or Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), there will be no enlargement”, she added.

Culture, Education, Youth and Sport: more inclusive European Youth programmes, better legislation in the audiovisual field

In the education field, the Presidency will focus on increasing funds for the Erasmus+ programme and trying to make it more inclusive.  A better quality and a more inclusive school environment, recognition of qualifications, digital skills and greater use of digital technologies in education are also key priorities, Education and Science Minister Krasimir Valchev told MEPs on 23 January.

Finalising  negotiations and striking a balanced agreement on the audiovisual media services directive and the European Solidarity Corps legislation are also high priorities, stressed Deputy Minister of Culture Amelia Gesheva and Youth and Sport Minister Krasen Kralev.

Agriculture: reforming EU farming policy and funding

Pursuing debate on ways to modernise and simplify the EU’s farming policy for after 2020 and the EU’s future long-term budget are key priorities, Agriculture Minister Rumen Porodzanov told Agriculture Committee MEPs on 23 January. The Presidency also wants to start work on the EU law against unfair trading practices in the food chain, once tabled, and pursue talks on the medicated feed regulation, he added.

MEPs stressed that a call for more subsidiarity in the CAP must not lead to a re-nationalisation of the oldest EU policy, as this could disrupt the functioning of the single market, and insisted that the future CAP must be well-funded to deliver. They also raised discussed the likely impact of Brexit on farmers. 

Transport and tourism: mobility package, aviation, posting of drivers

The Presidency will aim to make progress on the “mobility” package of road transport proposals, said Transport Minister Ivaylo Moskovski on 23 January. On the proposal for safeguarding competition in air transport, the Presidency also aims to create a legislative instrument to protect aviation from unfair practices by third countries, while not reducing connectivity within the EU and with the other countries.

MEPs quizzed Mr Moskovski on what the Presidency intends to do with the proposals on cabotage, posting of drivers, infrastructure charging and bus and coach transport. They also asked him how eco-friendly transport could be promoted and whether the Presidency would support the creation of a European agency for road transport.

Compliments of the European Commission