Just a few months before the start of the Romanian Council Presidency, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, presented his views on the future of Europe to the European Parliament on 23 October.
The Romanian Council Presidency comes at a critical time due to the daunting challenges the EU is currently facing, ranging from the rise of populism, Brexit and the erosion of an international framework which the EU relies on. It was therefore very interesting to hear how President Klaus Iohannis intends to tackle those challenges in the short and the long term.
It will be the first time for Romania to hold the Presidency of the Council, and the six months will prove to be a tough test. The huge pressure on Romania to ensure the completion of the many critical dossiers that are currently in the legislative process is just one of the challenges. Brexit and the next Multiannual Financial Framework are the most high-profile issues, as well as the Capital Markets Union, the Energy Union and other Juncker priorities that need to be finalised. In addition, Romania has to move its own programme forward, namely migration, security, digitisation, the EU enlargement and the EU’s role as a global leader. The fact that the European elections will take place during Romania’s Council Presidency, with many MEPs extremely nervous about the rise of populism, won’t make the work any easier.
While Commission President Juncker and the European Parliament largely agreed with Romania’s priorities, the doubts in Romania’s capabilities to steer the ship through these uncertain times were palpable. To a large extent, this is due to Romania’s own problems with the rule of law and the fight against corruption which could undermine Romania’s position in the EU and the effectiveness and influence of its upcoming EU Council presidency.
Almost as interesting as President Iohannis’ speech was Vice-President Timmermans’ subsequent presentation of the European Commission’s work programme for 2019. With its three main priorities for the year ahead, namely delivering on pending policy initiatives, adopting new key initiatives and presenting other initiatives that aim to reinforce the fundamentals for a fair and sustainable EU 27. Given the short timeframe ahead of the EU elections, the work programme seems very ambitious. The Commission tabled 15 new initiatives, and an additional 10 new REFIT evaluations, to check whether existing legislation is still fit for purpose. In addition, there are still 45 priority proposals pending for adoption.
During the debate, it became clear that MEPs across the political spectrum are extremely concerned about the very short timeframe to deliver the Commission’s propositions. For them the priority is to deliver on pending proposals, in order to provide concrete answers to EU citizens.
The urgency to deliver as much as possible in such a short period of time goes together with the uncertainty that the first months of 2019 will bring. The rise of populisms and Euroscepticism across Europe, the decline of the established EU balance of power and Brexit are just some of the greatest worries that the EU is dealing with and will have to deal with even more in the next months. In this uncertain time, will the Romanian Presidency be able to lead the way in delivering a bright future for the EU, where the main pending initiatives will be delivered, and democratic elections secured? Will Romania be able to run this important role without mashing up the presidency priorities with its domestic problems? And finally, will Romania safeguard and strengthen European unity, which in Iohannis’ words are key to ensure an inclusive and prosperous future for the EU and its citizens?
President Iohannis concluded his speech by saying that he and his country will continue to fight for democracy and EU values. This is the time for Romania to prove that it has the will and the ambition to reform and become a key player in shaping the future of Europe.
Giulia Forgnone is Consultant in the Energy and Natural Resources Team at FTI Consulting in Brussels.