Challenging times lie ahead as Romania kicks off EU Presidency

Written by Martin Banks on 9 January 2019 in News
News

Romania has taken over the rotating presidency of the EU, for the first time since joining the bloc in 2007, with warnings that it faces multiple challenges during its six-month tenure.

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Romania assumes leadership of the EU Council until the end of June 2019 and will lead the EU during a number of key events, including the UK’s exit from the bloc, the European parliamentary elections and negotiations on the next EU multi-annual budget framework.

This is the first time Romania has taken up the Presidency, and the country’s Europe Minister said, “We would like to be the honest broker: representing the east, representing the west, representing the north and the south.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “Romania is well-prepared at a technical level, but has not yet fully understood what it means to preside over EU countries.”


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The coming year is expected to bring some of the toughest challenges ever for the EU: in March the UK will leave the EU, the first member state ever to do so, and May will see European elections where populist parties are expected to make sweeping gains, calling into question the next phase of European integration.

Romania’s presidency role is to help steer and coordinate EU policy and legislation among the 28 Member States, but its term in office comes amid growing European Commission frustration with Bucharest over levels of corruption and the erosion of the rule of law.

SETTING OUT PRIORITIES

Romania has set out several priorities including stimulating EU growth; improving conditions for competitiveness; strengthening internal security and promoting European common values of democracy, freedom and respect for human dignity in the EU and beyond its borders.

There will also be a focus on combating racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, intolerance and populism.

During the Romanian Council presidency, the EU will also have to address the negotiations on the EU’s next long-term budget and Brexit.

On 9 May, Romania will host an informal European Council summit in Sibiu, where leaders will discuss plans about the future of the EU. It will be their first meeting following the UK's withdrawal from the EU and the last meeting before the European elections on 23-26 May.

MEPs will assess the work of the outgoing Austrian Presidency as well as of the incoming Romanian one later this week.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Meanwhile, four Romanian MEPs spelled out what they are expecting from its six-month term.

Marian-Jean Marinescu, vice-chair of the EPP group, said: “The Romanian presidency overlaps a European agenda with high stakes, such as migration, Brexit, the EU's long-term budget and of course, redefining the future of the European Union.”

“From my perspective, the negotiations on the EU long-term budget for 2021-2027 will be the big test for both Romania and the EU, because redefining the future of the European community needs a concrete transposition in policies and funding.”

Elsewhere, Victor Boştinaru, vice-chair of the S&D group, said: “I expect an agreement on a vision for Europe, which excludes a two-speed, multi-speed approach and tensions that can harm the European project.”

“That is why I would like to believe that the summit in Sibiu will establish a vision in which solidarity and unity prevail.”

Boştinaru went on, “I expect that this summit will provide us with an agreement on the budget. It is likely that the agreement on Brexit will be confirmed at the Sibiu summit, where a major decision reaffirming the enlargement policy towards the Western Balkans and redefining the Eastern Partnership with more pragmatic elements should be taken.”

“I think that during the Romanian presidency the direction regarding European defence policy should be strictly defined,” he added.

ACTIVE AND INTELLIGENT MANAGEMENT

Laurențiu Rebega, a member of the ECR group, said, “First, I would like to see active and intelligent management of three main topics: the long-term budget, issues around Brexit and the European elections in May.”

“In addition, it would be great if Romania relaunched cohesion policy projects, which would also relaunch the hopes and confidence of all EU citizens,” he added.

Another Romanian deputy, Norica Nicolai, vice-chair of the ALDE group, said: “The first rotating presidency comes, unfortunately, at a difficult time for the EU and for my country. Brexit and the long-term budget will mark the future of the European Union.”

“In the context of the rise of populism and extremism within the Union, I hope that Romania will consolidate pro-European values.”

“I trust Romania's ability to manage this presidency and will politically support the efforts to finalise the adoption of legislation,” she added.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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