The Austrian Presidency

What are its main topics?

Austria took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the third time on the 1 July. This is a huge challenge for Austria and the European Union as well. On one hand, they have to work off a 200-point long agenda and on the other hand, this will be the last whole presidency before the next European Parliament election from the 23-26 May 2019.

Three main thematic priorities have been defined under the motto of the presidency “A Europe that protects”. The first topic is security and the fight against illegal migration. The main goal is to reform the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Chancellor Sebastian Kurz wants to focus on the protection of the external border of the EU to get a better chance to solve the problem of the Dublin System. The second topic is retaining competitiveness through digitalisation. The primary objective is to complete the Digital Single Market of the EU and furthermore the introduction of a taxation of the major digital companies, e.g. Google and Facebook. The third and final topic is stability in the European neighborhood. A special focus lies on the Western Balkans. The aim is a deeper integration and a stronger link between the Western Balkans and the EU, in order to guarantee the security in the European Neighborhood.

Besides these predefined priorities, there are two very important points, which need to be addressed as well. They pose a big challenge to the Austrian Presidency. The first matter concerns the withdrawal of the United Kingdom out of the EU. Even if the Brexit negotiations are slowly coming to an end, the hot phase is not expected to take place before fall 2018. There is an enormous time pressure since the negotiations have to be finished by October. On one hand, the European and the British Parliament have to ratify the withdrawal agreement and on the other hand, they want to prevent a no deal Brexit.

The second big challenge concerns the EU-Budget, namely the Multiannual Financial Framework of the EU for the years 2021 to 2027. The Commission suggested an increase of the EU-budget in order to pay for the Brexit and other new expenses of the EU. This would mean higher contributions for the member states. But countries like Austria, Sweden and Denmark are opposed to such increases, while Germany and France are ready to contribute more. However, coming to an agreement on this matter during the presidency is unlikely. The agreement on the last MFF also took two years. Nevertheless, during the Austrian Presidency significant progress has to be made on the European household. Especially if they want to reach an agreement before the European Parliament election in May 2019.

Overall the Austrian Presidency faces very high expectations. It is expected that Austria, in its role as honest broker, will build constructive dialogues between pro-Europeans and European skeptics, in order to give important impulses for the reformation of the EU.