Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU: Is the country ready for the challenge?

As of 1 January 2019, Romania will hold the presidency of the Council the European Union. This will be the first time Romania takes the helm since joining the EU bloc in 2007. By taking over the Presidency of the Council from Austria, Romania will have to face its greatest “adulthood” test since the 1989 Revolution, as the country will have to demonstrate what it can do for Europe and keep, at least for a while, its national interests on the back burner.

However, the run-up to the presidency has not proved to be a smooth one. Few weeks ago, Romania’s president Klaus Iohannis claimed that the country was not ready to take over the European Union’s rotating Presidency and called for the country’s Prime Minister Viorica Dancila to step down. This news broke out following weeks of controversial discussion around Romania’s proposed changes to the justice system which would soften aspects of the country’s anti-graft law and tighten political control over courts. This move did not encounter the favor of the European institutions, which called on the Romanian government to suspend the implementation of the new judicial laws and appointment of prosecutors.

Adding to these facts was also the news that the minister in charge of preparing Romania to take over the EU presidency, Victor Negrescu, unexpectedly resigned over dissatisfaction with his performance in building good relations within the EU’s executive branch. In light of these issues, Commissioner Jourova recently expressed her concerns over the ability of Romania to manage the presidency while being weighed down by domestic concerns.

However, on 19 November, Romanian Prime Minister Dancila affirmed that Romania is ready to take over the European Union presidency. Political groups’ leaders in the European Parliament and European Parliament President Tajani were in Bucharest on 21 November in view of the preparation of the priorities of the incoming Presidency. Romania will be the first country of the new Romania – Finland – Croatia Trio that will work together to establish the long-term EU objectives and prepare a common agenda until June 2020.   

The country will face several challenges during its presidency, in fact it will take over the presidency when it will have to formally conclude the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement and oversee negotiations on a future trade agreement and open a new stage in relaunching Europe, following the recent turmoil represented by Brexit and the election of populist governments across Europe. Equally significant, European Parliament elections will take place during the presidency. Romania will also have to stir the negotiations for the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) which will cover the maximum amount that the EU may spend in different political fields over the period from 2021-2027.  

In the meantime, Romania announced the four pillars of action that will lead the work of the presidency: “Europe of convergence: growth, competitiveness, connectivity”, “the Europe of safety”, “Europe, a global player”, “the Europe of shared values”. These pillars aim at ensuring a sustainable and fair growth for all Member States through increased convergence, cohesion, innovation and connectivity. These values are also reflected in the motto of the presidency “Cohesion, a shared European value”.

Romania is expected to finalize and present its program in the coming weeks. It will be interesting to see how it will be translated into practice. To be updated on the work of the Romanian presidency, visit the website of the presidency and follow the Twitter account.