La presidenza estone del Consiglio dell’Unione Europea:sfide e opportunità 

Condivido un articolo di Global Risk Insights sulle sfide e le opportunità della presidenza estone del Consiglio dell’Unione Europea, iniziata lo scorso 1 luglio.

The new EU presidency: priorities and the work ahead

by Global Risk Insights

Estonia, governing in trio with Bulgaria and Austria, will be the next country to assume the presidency of the EU until the end of the year. In this article we will analyse the EU perspective of the Maltese presidency, and the shift in priorities to those of the new trio starting with Estonia, and the influence it will have in the Council negotiations.

Background

The 30 June will mark the end of the Maltese presidency of the EU, being Estonia the next in line to fulfil that role until the end of the year. This is a moment to reflect on what the year has brought for the EU in its first six months, and unveil what we can expect from the next six of this eventful 2017.

For six months, countries assume the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, the main legislative body of the EU. The presidency is assumed by trios, including the three countries that will assume the presidency in succession (Estonia, Bulgaria and Austria), sharing a common programme that allows continuity and is a way to achieve policy coherence year by year.

The presidency may be perceived by some as a relic of the EU’s past, but it allows for a change in pace in the negotiations, allowing countries with different cultures to approach mediation in their own terms. This is also moment of reflection, as the UK should have been the one receiving the relay from Malta to assume the presidency, being the first time the Presidency is forwarded to other country by one Member State leaving the table.

This year 2017 will be presided by two small countries that are assuming this role for the first time, tackling complex issues and policy advancements that involve consensus of the main players in the room, thus having to flex their diplomatic muscles and negotiate as the most adequate option.

The Maltese presidency

Malta assumed the Presidency in January 2017, a year that started with two main topics in the EU uncertainty agenda: Brexit and the US engagement with Europe.

Since the very beginning, its priorities were clearly defined, and were in line with the main topics outlined together with the Netherlands and Slovakia in the trio programme, which are of course, a reflection on the prioritization by the trio of the topics that orientated the Council meetings in all key topics; internal and external.

Jobs Growth and Competitiveness is the first topic to appear in the list, including the key areas of the Single Market, Entrepreneurship,and job creation, investing in the future, increasing the global attractiveness of the EU and the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).

The rest of the topics are the Protection of EU citizens as a second priority, followed by the Energy Union and Climate Policy, the Area of Freedom Security and Justice (in clear connection with the second topic and finally the EU as a strong Global Actor.

For Malta, the priorities were mainly focused on:

Migration, was clearly one of the main points of interest, as being a country situated in the Mediterranean near the African coast, thus having a considerable influx. Their approach to the issue was to tackle internal and external aspects while focusing on the economic causes of the problem in the first place.

Regarding the single market, they managed to achieve one of their main objectives: end with roaming charges. Negotiations were complex, but the presidency had as a goal to finish it during their time in the office, so the push was a clear help to the issue.

Regarding security and defence issues, important developments were achieved during the Maltese Presidency, as the Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defence, together with the launch of the European Defence Fund show.

Social inclusion was other of the big topics, including increased cooperation among health systems and increased women participation.

European Neighbourhood Policy, is for Malta another chance to tackle migration, focusing in the southern neighbours, and the understanding of the problems that instability abroad can bring to the EU. Thus, stabilisation of the neighbourhood was a key Priority of the Presidency, reflected on security discussions.

Finally, the maritime sector was included in the agenda, pushing for an integrated EU policy, targeting jobs in the industry and with the objective of an international ocean governance.

Donald Tusk described the work done by the Maltese President as “impressive and excellent”

The Estonian presidency

As we introduced, this will also be the first time for Estonia to hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU, who stepped forward after the UK gave up on the possibility to take this role as leaving the bloc.

The common programme established by the trio shared the same order of priorities as the previous, but with subtle differences. In the first section on Jobs Growth and Competitiveness, the Global Attractiveness section is dropped, and one on Environmental sustainability has been included (supporting the Climate Policy from economic growth).

Compensating for Global Attractiveness, the last section on the EU as a strong Global Actor has been extended with the priorities outlined in the EU Global Strategy and ist implementation, a clear vision on Migration, Enlargement, the stabilization of EU neighbours, cooperating beyond them and strengthen Development Cooperation and trade.

Estonia has clearly defined its priorities, which are a bit less broad than the ones from the Maltese Presidency, focusing more on economic topics and internal governance, even if not forgetting the external policy issues that are clearly going to be in the agenda.

The first priority for the Estonian Presidency is to push for an open and innovative European Economy, to support growth and competitiveness, very in line with the first priority of the trio, clearly pushing for easy ways of providing services in all EU countries.

A safe and secure Europe appears as the link between internal and external issues linked to citizen’s safety, which has been marked as one of the main concerns around the EU, with terrorist attacks all around. To promote peace and stability.

The fight against terrorism is high on the agenda, while we see an increased interest on NATO and the Eastern neighbourhood, shifting from the southern neighbourhood approach by the Maltese.

Digital Europe, regarding the links between technological process and cross-border benefits both for businesses and citizens (Estonian e-residency initiative will prove a key success example to maybe be exported during these 6 months).

Finally, an inclusive and sustainable Europe, appears as a key element of overarching topics as education, employment, climate, and mobility.

Estonia will enter the Presidency with clear ideas, Brussels preparing for summer, yet with many important topics on the agenda at internal and international level.

Their involvement with Brexit may take the form of a new European political consensus, trying to steer negotiations towards a more visible position of the EU as an asset for its citizens. Regarding the US, Estonia wants to continue a good development and positive engagement of NATO in the continent’s security, and it may possibly prove to bring a fresh approach on the topic.

After Malta leaving a very good impression after its first Presidency, the expectations are also high for the Baltic country, and if we trust Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid it may well be a presidency remembered “as the period when the ice started to melt, when we began to take a more positive view of the EU.”

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