Romania took over the EU's rotating presidency for the first time on Tuesday. The Eastern European nation -which joined the bloc in 2007- will be in charge of the EU Council for the next six months, as the EU faces a series of challenges – most notably the Brexit deadline in March, European parliamentary elections in May, a migration crisis and the negotiations of the next long-term European budget for 2021-2027.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis (pictured below) in his New Year's message urged Romania to capitalise on the opportunity of holding the Presidency of the EU Council.
“2019 is the year in which our country will hold, for the first time, the presidency of the Council of the European Union. Let us capitalise this opportunity and prove that Romania is involved, seriously, in consolidating the European project," Agerpes quoted Iohannis as saying.
A country determined to get the work done
Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila (pictured below) declared that the country's motto at the Presidency of the Council of the European Union will be "Cohesion, a common European value". Working under this motto, Romania's Presidency will focus on identifying solutions that reflect both the interests of the Member States and the vision of the European institutions, acting in the spirit of a stronger and more united Europe.
For the prime minister, the priorities of Romania’s Presidency are organised in four pillars of action: 1. Europe of convergence: growth, cohesion, competitiveness, connectivity 2. A safer Europe 3. Europe as a stronger global actor 4. Europe of common values.
"It is a country project that must unite us - state institutions, political forces and civil society, all Romanians, wherever they are. I assure you we are prepared to have a successful mandate for the dignified Romania to rise and regain its place and importance in Europe and in the world," the local news agency quoted Dancila as saying in her New Year's message.
The calendar of the Romanian Presidency comprises a significant number of meetings and events, including an informal European Leaders’ Summit in Sibiu (9 May 2019) where the future of the EU after Brexit will be discussed.
Scepticism by critics
Brussels however, has voiced doubts about the country's capacity to properly lead the block. In an interview with Die Welt on Dec. 29, Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured above) said that even if Romania was "technically well prepared" for the presidency, “the government of Bucharest has not yet fully understood what it means to preside over EU countries."
The role "also requires a willingness to listen to others and a willingness to put one's own concerns in the background. I have some doubts about this", Juncker told the German newspaper, doubting that Romania's government can overcome its own internal problems.
Some commentators agree with Junker while others say the country shouldn't be prejudged.
The Editorial Board of the Financial Times wrote that Romania’s presidency highlights the need for rule of law reforms.
“Now, somewhat ironically, Bucharest is taking over running an EU agenda that includes infringement procedures triggered against both Poland and Hungary over rule of law. Given the political prestige at stake, Romania is hardly likely to seek to stymie these cases. Yet both are unlikely, anyway, ever to reach their ultimate conclusion — which could see Budapest or Warsaw having their EU voting rights suspended — since that would require unanimous approval by the 27 other states. The case for reforming the way the bloc handles rule of law issues is now overwhelming” the London-based newspaper wrote.
Optimism ahead about Romania EU Council Presidency
Writing for El Periódico de Catalunya, a daily newspaper based in Barcelona, Political Science and International Relations Expert Ruth Ferrero-Turrión argues the EU Council presidency could have a positive impact on Romania.
“Bucharest can demonstrate its skills and negotiating competence to EU partners who have viewed the country with mistrust and even disdain ever since its accession. For the country, which is known to many as the cradle of Count Dracula and as a main source of migrant workers, this presidency is an opportunity to overcome prejudices and stereotypes” Ferrero-Turrión wrote.
Thomas Kulidakis from Prague-based Český rozhlas (Czech Radio) said: “With any luck history will repeat itself in the first half of 2019. People were also worried when Bulgaria held the EU Council presidency, but in the end Sofia did a good job.”
Romania succeeds Austria and will hold the presidency until the end of July when Finland will take over. The opening ceremony of Romania's presidency at the EU Council is scheduled for January 10, when Junker and the College of Commissioners will be in Bucharest.
Holding the EU’s six-month rotating presidency is a big honour especially for countries who hold it for the first time. At the same time it is a huge responsibility, as the EU faces a series of challenges from the West to the East, from the North to the South, such as Britain's departure from the bloc, wrangling over the next budget, and migration crisis among others. Support and help is needed for Romania in order to accomplish its 6-month long mission.
UPDATE 11/01/2019 21:00
(President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis Photo: Presidency.ro)
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Friday welcomed at the Cotroceni Presidential Palace in Bucharest the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker. The top European Union official visited Romania to mark the beginning of its six-month Presidency at the Council of the EU.
During a joint press conference, Juncker said that domestically Romania needs "an atmosphere and spirit of consensus," because "pointless polemics could cause multiple problems internally and externally."
In his turn, the Romanian president said that "internal problems" wouldn't harm Romania's presidency.