Despite ongoing struggles with corruption at home and doubts in some quarters about the country’s readiness and capability, the new Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union has presented an ambitious program under the slogan “cohesion, a common European value”.
On 1 January 2019, Romania assumed the 6-monthly rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU (CEU) as the first of the upcoming “Trio of Presidencies” involving future presidents Finland and Croatia, following a common program.
Despite ongoing struggles with corruption at home and doubts in some quarters about Romania’s readiness and capability to lead the Council through Presidency, (including from European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker and, briefly, Romania’s own President Klaus Iohannis, who later U-turned) Romania has presented an ambitious program under the slogan “cohesion, a common European value”.
The priorities (full description here) of the Romanian Presidency are fourfold: i) a Europe of convergence, ii) a safer Europe, iii) Europe as a strong global actor and iv) Europe of common values. Below is a brief summation:
A Europe of Convergence
The Romanian Presidency intends to continue facilitating negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027, which regulates EU spending. Additionally, the Romanian Presidency aims to reduce development gaps and further expand the single market to remove remaining barriers to access of goods, labour, services and capital across fields including healthcare (assessing the directive on the application of patients’ rights to cross-border healthcare), media production (negotiations on the proposed Regulation Establishing the Creative Europe Programme (2021-2027)), business (focussing on harmonisation and mutual recognition legislation) and workers’ rights (enforcing the European Pillar of Social Rights).
A Safer Europe
For the Romanian Presidency, a “Safer Europe” means increasing EU effectiveness across the full spectrum of security threats including cyber security, terrorism, criminal prosecutions and migration. Understandably given its location, Romania has also proposed increased cooperation in the Western Balkans and continued dialogue with Turkey and Central Asian nations. Concerning migration, Romania has pledged to promote a comprehensive approach, promoting cooperation with countries of origin and transit and facilitating dialogue among Member States to establish an effective and sustainable EU migration and asylum policy.
Europe as a strong Global Actor
The Romanian Presidency believes in a strong regional and global role for the EU in both security and trade. It proposes strengthening Common Security and Defence Policy (CDSP) initiatives, with the caveat that expansion should not conflict with NATO. It also intends to promote the use of and cooperation with existing mechanisms such as the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence, the European Defence Fund, and the Permanent Structured Cooperation policy. Romania also advocates advancing the enlargement process of the EU to “ensure more internal and external security”. In the case of the latter, Romania intends to celebrate 10 years of the Eastern Partnership, reinvigorate the Black Sea Synergy initiative in South East Europe and promote multilateralism and the modernisation of the free trade system via enlargement of the Economic and Free Trade Partnership Agreements.
A Europe of Common values
The Romanian Presidency is taking a broad approach to countering what it sees trends running counter to European values. Romania has promised to promote steps to counter racism, intolerance, xenophobia, populism, antisemitism, hate speech and online “fake news” via new unspecified “European mechanisms”. Romania also plans to promote and support legislation focusing on social progress and development gaps, equal opportunities (including narrowing gender pay gaps), as well as ensuring access to education and training for disadvantaged categories.
For Romania, “common values” also means pushing for equal treatment for itself. As was made clear in the opening speech of Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancilla at the latest plenary session of the European Parliament, many in the Romanian establishment chafe at the conditions and restrictions currently imposed by the EU, particularly its continuing exclusion from the Schengen area.
Key events occurring during the Romanian Presidency
- United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union (March 29 2019); Given the current uncertainty, Brexit could end up taking time away from the goals of the Romanian Presidency.
- European Parliamentary Elections (Thursday 23-Sunday 26 May 2019) – First post-Brexit election (in theory), with seats available reduced from 751 to 705. The centre-right European People’s Party are again expected to be the largest single grouping.
- Informal Summit on the Future of Europe (9 May 2019. Sibiu, Romania)- A follow up to the 2017 Leaders’ Agenda agreed in Tallinn, Estonia, the 2019 Sibiu summit will conclude with a renewed commitment by leaders to “an EU that delivers on the issues that really matter to people”
- Spitzenkandidat Process (linked to Parliamentary Election). Occurring at the end of the Romanian Presidency, under current rules, the largest party in the European Parliament after the elections should have its candidate selected by the European Council (EC) as leader of the European Commission. However, some commentators consider the system irrelevant after EC leaders recently stated they would not be bound by the Spitzenkandidat process
A full list of events for the Romanian presidency can be found here.