The Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, 2nd half of 2018

Austrian Flag in Winter

On 1 July 2018, Austria takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the third time after 1998 and 2006. However, the upcoming Presidency differs from the previous ones. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the role of the rotating Presidency has changed due to the creation of the posts of the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, as well as the extension of competences of the European Parliament. As holder of the Presidency, Austria will contribute significantly to the legislative and political work of the Council, but the possibilities to shape the agenda are more limited than in 1998 and 2006.

The responsibilities of the Presidency remain diverse and demanding nonetheless:

  • Drafting meeting agendas and setting the topics of meetings of the Council and the numerous preparatory bodies and working groups;
  • Chairing meetings of the Council in all formations that are not chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy or the President of the European Council, such as: General Affairs Council (GAC), Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN), Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA);
  • Chairing the vast majority of preparatory bodies and working groups;
  • Leading the negotiations in the “trilogues” with the European Parliament and the European Commission to reach agreements on legislative proposals;
  • Coordinating political initiatives of the member states.

Taking over the Presidency of the Council thus means additional tasks and duties for Austria in the service of the European Union.

The framework for the substantial work of the Presidency depends on a number of elements. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, groups of three member states (the “trio presidency”) develop a common work programme for a period of 18 months. This mechanism of coordination over a longer period of time aims at increasing the continuity of the Council’s work. Austria is part of a trio presidency together with Estonia (Presidency in the second half of 2017) and Bulgaria (Presidency in the first half of 2018). The trio programme, adopted by the Council on 20 June 2017, is based on the European Council’s “Strategic Agenda for the Union in Times of Change” of June 2014. A further guiding document is the Joint Declaration of the Institutions on the EU’s legislative priorities, which was adopted in December 2016, as well as the Commission’s annual work programme.

The trio programme comprises five thematic areas:

  • A Union for jobs, growth and competitiveness
  • А Union that empowers and protects all its citizens
  • Towards an energy Union with a forward-looking climate policy
  • A Union of freedom, security and justice
  • The Union as a strong global actor

The most important points of the trio programme are: implementation of the European Agenda on Security and the European Agenda on Migration; fight against radicalisation and violent extremism; implementation of the EU Global Strategy; enlargement as regards the Western Balkans; cooperation with partners in the Mediterranean region in order to tackle root causes of flight and irregular migration; continuation and finalisation of Digital Single Market proposals; efficient taxation, fight against tax fraud; support for young people (education and training); further implementation of the United Nations “Agenda 2030” for sustainable development; investment in growth and jobs, including research and innovation; fight against poverty and social exclusion; continuation of the work on a sustainable, resilient and effective energy union; implementation of the Paris climate agreement and the EU’s 2030 targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Austrian Presidency of the Council in the second half of 2018 will have to work on a large number of complex and challenging dossiers, e.g. internal and external security, protection of external borders, reform of the Common European Asylum System, Digital Single Market, Energy Union, budget 2019, Multiannual Financial Framework post-2020, EU enlargement, European neighbourhood and conclusion of the negotiations about the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (Brexit). Austria’s national programme will be available in due time before the start of the Presidency.

Another important aspect for the work of the Austrian Presidency concerns the elections to the European Parliament in spring 2019. As the Parliament’s legislative period is coming to a close, it will be crucial to prepare the finalisation or reach agreements on as many open legislative proposals as possible. Thus, one of the main tasks of the Austrian Presidency will be to reach common positions of the Council on individual proposals. These common Council positions are a precondition for negotiations with the European Parliament. These negotiations, also known as “trilogues”, are usually very intensive and present a particular challenge for the Presidency.

After Austria, the next trio presidency will take over: Romania (first half of 2019), Finland (second half of 2019) and Croatia (first half of 2020).

The Austrian Council Presidency is a common endeavour of the entire Federal Government. Preparations in Austria have already intensified last year. In June 2016, an inter-ministerial steering committee was created, which is jointly chaired by the Federal Chancellery and the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs. All ministries as well as representatives of the Parliament, the Federal States, the Office of the Federal President and the social partners are represented in the steering committee. The main tasks of the steering committee are the preparation of the national programme as well as the planning of the political meetings and other events during the Presidency.

Furthermore, in December 2016 an Executive Secretariat in charge of all organisational and logistical issues was established. The tasks of the Executive Secretariat include practical planning and realisation of meetings, accreditation of participants, website, logistics etc. While located in the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, the Executive Secretariat is the central contact point for all ministries for the above mentioned tasks in order to create synergies and work as cost-efficiently as possible.