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News 25 Jul 16

Bulgaria Faces Challenge of Early EU Presidency

Britain's decision to pull out of the EU presidency in the second half of 2017 leaves Bulgaria with the challenge of leading the European Council for the first time at short notice and in a turbulent time.

Mariya Cheresheva
European Council in Brussels. Photo: Herman Van Rompuy/Flickr

After the UK officially gave up its presidency of the EU in the second half of 2017, the two next six-month presidencies of Estonia and Bulgaria will likely be moved forward to fill the gap.

For Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007 and has never presided over the European Council, this would mean stepping in on June 1, 2018.

“We are working on both options – a presidency in the first or second half or 2018,” a spokeswoman for Bulgaria’s EU presidency, led by the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of European Policy, Meglena Kuneva, confirmed to BIRN.

She noted, however, that the European Council has not taken an official decision on whether Estonia's and Bulgaria’s presidencies will be moved forward. “There is a common will for this decision to be taken by the end of the month,” she explained.

The Presidency of the European Council – the institution which brings together the ministers of the EU member states – rotates among members every six months and defines the EU's overall political direction.

Each of the three subsequent presidencies for the total period of 18 months work together in order to coordinate their activities and priorities.

But, after the UK decided to leave the EU on June 23, on July 19 the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, informed the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, that the country is abandoning its presidency.

In a statement, a Downing Street spokesperson said on July 20 that the UK “will be prioritising the negotiations to leave the European Union”.

According to the Bulgarian EU Presidency team, moving the presidency to the beginning of 2018 is both a challenge and an opportunity for the country to “mobilize the existing capacity, unite around European policies which are important for the country and show we are a reliable and equal member of the EU”.

At the same time, Bulgaria will be charged with having to balance between the different interests of the member states and seek tough solutions.

Most probably, it will also have to focus on the Brexit negotiations between the EU and the UK, depending on when the UK invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Some analysts have expressed doubts about the preparedness of Bulgaria to take over the EU Presidency, although the government has launched a national coordination mechanism for the presidency, which has been working since May.

Apart from training hundreds of experts, it has already announced the draft priorities of its presidency, including jobs and competitiveness, migration and security, energy union, climate policy and strengthening the EU position on the international scene.

Linka Toneva-Metodieva, a Sofia-based political scientist specializing in EU policies, said the selected list of priorities is too broad, and a public discussion on which topics are in Bulgaria's interest has been missing.

“It would be better for Bulgaria to choose to work on one or two topics which are important for our society and to build bridges with Europe,” she said.

She said she would not recommend moving Bulgaria’s presidency forward by six months, as the planning and preparation for the second half of 2018 has already started.

But she noted that “no EU presidency has ever failed” and that the country can rely on the expert and logistical support of the European Commission and the European Council. 

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