Romania takes over EU presidency amid Brexit chaos

Monday 28 January 2019

For the first time since it joined the European Union, Romania takes over the rotating European Council Presidency from January until June 2019. With Brexit looming on the horizon, the country is set to face one of the most challenging periods in the history of the EU.

The next six months will be a crucial test for Romania and for the EU as a whole with three main priorities to be managed and notably Brexit, the upcoming European elections and the conclusion of the negotiations over the next Multiannual Financial Framework. 

Following the rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement by the British Parliament[1], Brexit is clearly the thorniest issue the EU has to deal with. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, expressed regrets about the outcome of the vote and reiterated the EU’s support to the agreement which is described as “a fair compromise and the best possible deal”[2].  In this regard, the priority for the Romanian Presidency will be to maintain the unity among the EU27 and to continue the work already underway on the contingently plans to face the risk of a no-deal Brexit. Indeed, the vote outcome makes the possibility of a no-deal Brexit more real than ever, especially if the EU rules out an extension to Article 50. On the other hand, the result has given new strength to those voices from both side of the Channel who have been pleading for a second referendum, including Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon[3].

We are all following the decisions in the British Parliament and it is obvious that Brexit will be the focus of attention during the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU. We will turn this history tab of the Union, but we also need to learn from this situation[4].”

Viorica Dăncilă, Prime Minister of Romania

Some MEPs, including ALDE Chair Guy Verhofstadt, have ruled out any possible prolongation of Article 50 beyond the European elections[5] set to take place in May but while this could be a tactic to keep pressure on the UK, the country will be in its right to hold elections whilst still a Member State. The European elections are the second big event set to take place under the Romanian Presidency and they could completely overturn the current political landscape. With Eurosceptic and populist parties set to gain a large number of votes, the presence or absence of UK MEPs could make a difference in the final seats’ allocation to the different political groups. According to a projection realised by VoteWatch Europe[6], moderates and pro-EU forces could lose a part of their seats if the UK participates in the elections while its departure could slow down the rise of nationalist parties across Europe. Ahead of the vote, Eurosceptic parties in several important Member States such as Italy and Poland are working to build alliances in order to get their own political group and gain more political weight in the next legislative term. To counterbalance the growth of Euroscepticism across Europe, the Romanian Presidency is committed to promote a unified and efficient application of the transparency principle in the EU institutions to rebuilt citizen’s trust. At the same time, the Presidency is also prepared to act to protect the free and democratic electoral process from external interference and to fight against online disinformation[7].

Finally, in the next six months the Romanian Presidency is committed to finalise the negotiations on the next Multiannual Financial Framework. The future budget will cover the 2021-2027 period and will play a critical role in providing the Union with the appropriate resources to achieve its policy objectives and face the challenges ahead. It is hard to say if the Presidency will be able to conclude the negotiations as Member States remain divided regarding the possibility of cutting the resources allocated to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the cohesion funds to increase the budget for the next Research and Innovation Framework Programme[8].

To guide its action during these turbulent times, the Presidency has set four strategic priorities:

  1. Europe of convergence: to support a fair and sustainable development for all the EU by strengthening competitiveness, entrepreneurship and industrial policy while at the same time working to close the gaps between Member States and support the social pillar of the EU;
  2. A safer Europe: to respond to the growing internal and external security challenges by enhancing the cooperation among Member States;
  3. Europe, as a stronger global actor: to promote the role of the EU as a global player with a particular emphasis on the neighbouring countries in the Balkans and in Eastern Europe.
  4. Europe of common values: to reinstate the EU commitment to work against any form of racism, intolerance, xenophobia, populism and discrimination and ensure equal chances and equal treatment to all citizens.

It is still unclear how the Brexit situation will evolve and what repercussions it will have on the European elections and on the next EU budget. At the time being, the UK Government is working on an alternative Brexit plan that will be voted by the Parliament on the 29th of January. The pressure on the British Government to call a second referendum and leave the final decision on the future of the country to its citizens is growing as well as the possibility of a no deal Brexit and the disastrous impact it would have on the UK and the EU alike.









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