This post is also available in: Français (French)
“United we stand strong “. This is the leitmotiv of Bulgaria, the country which has just attained the rotating Presidency of the EU Council. As a preamble, let us hope that the desire for unity expressed by Bulgaria will make it possible to resolve dissonances within the Council on important issues such as social Europe, migrants or the violation of the rule of law in Poland and in Hungary.
This is an opportunity for this country, which now presides over the Council of the EU for the first time since its accession, to launch a new force to stimulate progress during this period of European legislature due to end in mid-2019, when new elections take place. However, reading the program, there is nothing really new. If we look at the detailed program of its priorities, Bulgaria will follow the long-established European agenda. Growth, budgetary discipline, security or management of what they call the ‘migration crisis’. Once again, the “social” aspect is missing, which is a disappointment given that the European Pillar of Social Rights was adopted just two months ago …
On close examination of the Bulgarian program a first observation can be made. In any mention of priorities, the first words which appear are “geopolitical”, “migration” and “security”. This is not to say that the Bulgarian agenda for the rotating Presidency will be essentially focussed on security. However, in politics more than anywhere, words and sentences have a meaning, and placing these terms at the beginning of the statement doubtless symbolizes the Bulgarian vision of Europe.
This is logical because the country having to manage one of the EU’s external borders is on the front line. Standing at the gates of the Balkans and Turkey, the country alone is a vast entrance-hall for people wanting to reach Europe from the Machreq, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa or West Africa. It is not a question of analyzing Bulgaria’s migration policy, but to observe that its geographical situation means the country strongly concerned by the migratory flows in Europe.
Its geographical location also explains its desire to advance the integration process of the Balkan countries into the European Union. However, it is difficult to know what real progress can be made on this subject because the matter is so complex, not only because of the challenges that the candidate countries still have to meet, including on fundamental rights, but also because of the internal problems shaking the European Union and which reveal, once again, the need to deepen before enlarging.
Economically, Bulgaria will follow the agenda set for a few years now. To come: budget discipline, sustainable growth and digital development. These are the economic drivers of the Bulgarian presidency. In the case of digital development, Bulgaria will continue the work undertaken by the Estonian Presidency.
Another important point of its agenda: Bulgaria wants to push initiatives for young people. This is also an objective that remains a priority in view of the statistics of youth unemployment on the old continent, which continue to be of concern. Let’s hope that Bulgaria will be part of a new dawn so deeply desired for young Europeans.
AEDH regrets that social issues are barely mentioned, despite the hope inspired by the European Pillar of Social Rights and the interinstitutional signature in Gothenburg. It seems that only cohesion policy holds Bulgaria’s attention. In effect, given Brexit and the Commission’s new defense and security priorities, the future of cohesion policy in the negotiations on the multiannual financial framework post-2020 is far from certain. However, this instrument alone cannot solve the social problems and inequalities undermining societies and relations between countries in the long term, nor can it bring about the rapprochement so much desired by the Union between itself and its citizens. Social rights have this potential, as long as they are given the means and are not a simple declaration alone.
On the method, it does not seem that Bulgaria is innovative. In saying that it seeks to achieve a balance between the interests of the Member States and the European Union, the moment is propitious for more community. Yet this method seems the most appropriate to advance on many topics.