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Bulgaria’s EU Presidency comes at the right moment to reconnect with citizens

Submitted by on 12 Apr 2018 – 16:44

Bulgaria takes over the rotating EU Presidency at a time when we are to see the culmination of at least three interlinked strategic topics for the EU agenda. Eva Maydell MEP writes about the Bulgarian Presidency’s policy priorities

On one hand, we will witness the second phase of the Brexit negotiations, which will put European unity to a real test. On the other hand, just before the European elections, the debate on the Future of Europe, initiated with the European Commission’s white paper, will intensify and will provide tangible perspectives. In addition, after years of growing populism and Euro-sceptic movement across Europe, the Presidency comes at a moment which is crucial for re-establishing the dialogue with the EU citizens.

It seems like the wind is blowing in our sails –the levels of support for the EU as an institution are returning to those before the crisis. As much as 57 percent of Europeans today support their country’s membership in the EU and 64 percent believe EU membership has benefited their country (2017, Eurobarometer Survey Commissioned by the European Parliament). In fact, many Europeans today are asking for a more engaged EU in spheres like migration management, security and even social policy. As the Presidency coincides with the last phase of the EU institutional mandate, it will need to show what tangible results the current policy cycle will deliver to citizens. Therefore, the Presidency will have to provide for political compromises in many of the areas on which political decisions have been lagging. Furthermore, Sofia needs to find a way to match the expectations with a somewhat constrained EU budget after Brexit.

Last but not least, despite a targeted anti-EU disinformation, propaganda and fake news, the EU continues to be a power of attraction for the countries of its neighbourhood. Particularly, citizens in the Western Balkans not only are supportive of closer relations with the EUbut also welcome the tough reforms and rules that their countries need to meet to join the club. However, there is an atmosphere of insecurity as to whether the EU can deliver to them. That is why we believe that the Presidency is a good time to extend a hand towards the immediate EU neighbours.

I am very pleased to see that the Presidency is not shying away from these issues.

The Presidency will further develop some of the already functioning EU policies. One such policy which has been providing tangible results in all EU territories is the EU cohesion policy. This policy must become more targeted if it should support job creation, growth and social cohesion. I am also convinced that the Presidency will support the strategy for strengthening the Economic and Monetary Union in making the banking sector more stress-resilient on a way to a European Banking Union. In the area of youth and education policies, the Presidency will lay an emphasis on the New Skills Agenda for Europe and make a mid-term evaluation of Erasmus.

In policy fields such as migration, the Presidency will be running against time and diverging national interests. A key priority will be to achieve progress on the asylum system and lead Europe to a more functional and responsible migration management. Striking the right compromises will be the only way to find a lasting solution to the migration crisis.

As already outlined, the Presidency foresees working on delivering a more concrete European perspective for the region of the Western Balkans. I am glad to see that Bulgaria has not only chosen the way of diplomatic dialogues and the EU conditionality towards the countries of the Western Balkans. Intensified functional regional cooperation with a connectivity focus in transport, digital, education or telecommunications will bring the Western Balkans even closer to the EU.

Finally, I am confident that the Presidency is taking to heart the question of bridging the skill gap in Europe and working for the completion of a Digital Single Market (DSM). Both of these have been my personal priorities throughout my mandate as MEP and I am eager to see progress on the legislative files exactly during our presidency. The team of the Presidency definitely has on its radar the objective of making the DSM a core element for Europe’s competitiveness while preserving the necessary level of user protection.

The success of the Presidency will depend on whether the Bulgarian government will manage to convince everyone to stay together on key issues, while maintaining ambitious goals and clear communication with the citizens before the elections. The stakes are high, but I am confident that we are prepared to excel: “United we stay strong!”

Eva Maydell is a Member of the European Parliament’s European People’s Party.