Bulgaria took over the rotating presidency of the European Council from Estonia on January 1. “Bulgaria takes charge of the EU presidency at a key moment for the union,” said Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. “May the slogan ‘strength in unity’ guide us. I am confident that we shall work with success on our priorities, on continuity.”
During the next six months, the presidency aims to focus on four key areas: the future of Europe and young people, the Western Balkans, security and stability and the digital economy. Brexit will also be a priority, and Sofia is also expected to push for better ties with Turkey.
Bulgaria assumes the presidency at a time when the country is under increasing pressure to clean up its act. Together with neighbouring Romania it remains – more than a decade after joining the EU – still under special supervision from Brussels due to its failure to fight corruption, an issue that has prevented both countries from joining the Schengen area. According to Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, Bulgaria is the most corrupt country in the EU. However, on January 2, President Rumen Radev vetoed anti-corruption legislation approved by the Bulgarian parliament in December, saying it doesn’t do enough to counteract graft.
“I believe that the law does not create an adequate legal basis for tackling corruption, and will in fact make it even more difficult to fight,” said Mr Radev.
The presidency of the European Council rotates among the EU member states every six months. During this six month period, the presidency chairs and sets the agenda of meetings at every level in the Council, helping to ensure the continuity of the EU’s work in the Council. Member states holding the presidency work together closely in groups of three, called ‘trios’. This system was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. The trio sets long-term goals and prepares a common agenda determining the topics and major issues that will be addressed by the Council over an 18 month period. On the basis of this programme, each of the three countries prepares its own more detailed six month programme.
The current trio is made up of the presidencies of the Estonia, Bulgaria and Austria.
On January 2, long queues formed in the rain outside the Bulgarian National Bank in Sofia as locals waited patiently to get their hands on a special 10 leva coin, minted to celebrate the Bulgarian presidency.