The presidency of the Council of the EU
Created by the Lisbon treaty in 2009, the presidency of the Council of the EU rotates among the 28 Member States every six months. It is responsible for the functioning of the Council of the EU (the gathering of the EU’s executive governments), and for setting a work programme, defining agendas and facilitating dialogue with other EU institutions. Each presidency works in a group of three called a “trio”, meant to set a programme for 18 months, as done by Slovakia with the previous presidency (the Netherlands) and the next one (Malta). However, the consistency of the priorities set by previous trios has been questioned, while national preferences, priorities – and elections – have often prevailed over common goals. As for the seemingly arbitrary composition of the trios, it was called by some “a thinly disguised way of providing a splint to the small and inexperienced states” (Politico, 8/01/2016).
Priorities of the Slovak presidency until December 2016
The programme of the Slovak Presidency is based on four priorities:
- An economically strong Europe: Slovakia aims to make full use of existing financing instruments, including the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), create new job opportunities, and improve the economic performance of the EU, “still below pre-crisis level”.
- A modern single market: this will be done through securing clean and affordable energy supplies and the expansion of e-commerce and a digital single market. In particular, Slovakia wishes to pursue negotiations on the European Accessibility Act and facilitate access to products and services for persons with disabilities.
- A sustainable migration and asylum policy: through the protection of external borders and cooperation with third countries, especially in the field of security, Slovakia aims to “manage migration effectively” within a “fully functioning Schengen area”. The Common European asylum system (presented by the European Commission on 13 July 2016) is the first step in doing so. Previously criticised for its strict policy towards migrants, Slovakia appears willing to make amends by showcasing the Gabčíkovo refugee camp as a good example of cooperation with the Austrian government in the refugee crisis.
- A globally engaged Europe: this priority will see Slovakia pursuing negotiations on EU enlargement with candidate countries (currently Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey) and “strengthening […] trade links with key global economies”. The TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), although not explicitly mentioned, will probably account for the biggest chunk in this area of work.
Other work streams will include the “European Pillar of Social Rights”, Roma integration and the “Skills package” (or Skills Agenda for Europe). In particular, the Slovak presidency will work on improving social inclusion for young people.
The current context will undoubtedly increase the pressure weighing on the first ever Slovak presidency. While it will have to deal with the recent decision of the UK to leave the European Union (“Brexit”), Slovakia is likely to chair heated debates related to relocation and resettlement of migrants and asylum seekers. This is likely to be a hot topic, as a recent report published by the European Commission on 13 July has shown that only 3,000 people have been resettled, out of the 160,000 initially foreseen by the European plan. In this challenging context, the development of a Pillar of Social Rights will probably be the main way for social services to be at the forefront.
“EU presidency still matters, sort of”, Politico, 8 January 2016
On 15-16 November 2016, ESN will hold a seminar on social workforce in the Slovak capital, Bratislava. We are currently running a survey on the topic – if you would like to know more or contribute, please contact Dorothea Baltruks.