Six months later, the Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU is coming to an end and will transfer the presidency of Austria. Although a crucial week remains, culminating in the European Council summit in Brussels on 28 – 29 June, Bulgaria has already taken stock of the results.
“We took over the presidency in an important and difficult moment for the EU when unity was and continues to be of utmost importance,” said ambassador Maya Dobreva at Brussels Press Club last week.
“The challenges stemming from Brexit, the diverging views on some key issues, the complex global security environment made our task particularly demanding.”
As is common by the presidencies, Bulgaria put forward a number of priorities for “a more secure, stable and solidary Europe”. Its ambition was also to build-up on the progress achieved by previous presidencies and to ensure continuity.
“We did not expect miracles and our goal was to promote an open and honest dialogue in all working bodies in the Council in the spirit of confidence and partnership,” says Dobreva.
She mentions that the Bulgarian presidency dealt with over 100 tripartite meetings (trilogues) on legislative proposals with representatives of the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council.
During its presidency, several legislative acts were adopted and entered into force, relating to the single market, environment, mobility, research and education, digital single market. Progress was also achieved on important files in the economic, social, financial, security and justice area.
“One of the key successes was the political agreement with the European Parliament on the Posted Workers Directive in the area of services. After no less than 9 trilogues with the European Commission and the European Parliament and the work of three presidencies, Bulgaria managed to find the right balance between all.”
The Directive establishes the principle of equal pay for equal work, done at the same place, and at the same time guarantees more legal security for both employees and employers.
“Another important contribution in the social sphere is the agreement on the legislative proposal related to regulated professions.” This is a topic that affects nearly 50 million of European citizens with such professions, in areas like medicine, pharmaceutics, architecture and many others.
During the Bulgarian Presidency, the European Union entered a period of crucial negotiations not only on the financial aspects of the Multiannual financial framework after 2020 but also in terms of the vision for its priorities and actions in the coming decade.
“The importance of the cohesion policy was among the key messages sent in the talks on the new financial framework. We have worked hard also to ensure that the Common agricultural policy remains a strong instrument with a proved added-value,” says Dobreva.
Migration remains a key challenge for the EU today. Ambassador Dobreva underlines that Bulgaria has invested a lot of efforts on the migration issue aiming at reaching a comprehensive reform of the Common European Asylum System.
A number of legislative proposals have been advanced and are ready to be concluded, according to the Commission. But she admits that there still are diverging views among member states on reforming the Dublin regulation aiming at creating a fairer and more efficient system for allocating asylum applications.
“Nevertheless, we still hope a common ground of understanding could be agreed upon by the leaders at next European Council,” she says optimistically. “In order to deal with migration successfully, Europe needs to stand united, with all member states showing solidarity and understanding towards each-another.”
Bulgaria, being close to the candidate countries in the Western Balkans, has put special focus on advancing the accession process.
”We are glad that we managed to get the region back to the EU agenda and reaffirm EU’s support for the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The summit on 17 May in Sofia was the first gathering of the leaders of the EU member states and the countries of the region after the one in Thessaloniki in 2003.”
She believes that Bulgaria has set a momentum that will be taken-over by next presidencies. “Our goal is to send strong messages acknowledging the progress made and encouraging the continuation of efforts along the EU path.”
Unless no member state will use its veto at the General Affairs Council meeting on Tuesday, the Council is expected to endorse the Commission’s recommendations to open accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia or, as it is called now after the name issue has been resolved with Greece, Northern Macedonia.
In recent years the EU has been in crisis mode, trying to manage a number of crises simultaneously, such as the euro, migration, Brexit and the erosion of the rule of law in some of its member states. Crises are nothing new in EU’s history but they do not always turn to opportunities for reforming the EU institutions.
The current crises still pose serious threats to EU’s future. Bulgaria achieved a lot during its presidency but if its objective was to turn EU from crisis management to crisis solution, it probably only provided some answers to what needs to be done to secure EU’s future.