In the European Parliament’s office in Athens, the Ambassador of Austria in Greece, Andrea Ikl-Böhm presented today the priorities of the Austrian Presidency of the EU, which started on 1 July 2018. The EU will face two major challenges during the Austrian Presidency: on the one hand, the negotiations on Brexit and, on the other hand, the negotiations on the multiannual Financial Framework post 2020.
As the Ambassador said, Austria intends to be a neutral “broker” and to help the unity of the Union. Austria will therefore choose the following motto for its Presidency: A Europe that protects. This is in accordance with EU citizens’ expectations. Austria’s efforts will be aimed at strengthening the European Union, helping it to get closer to its citizens and re-establishing trust – citizens’ trust in the EU’s capacity to act, mutual trust among the Member States, and trust in the EU as a reliable and stabilising force in the world. In order to achieve this objective, Austria’s approach will be based on enhancing the principle of subsidiarity. The European Union should focus on big issues which require a joint solution and take a step back when it comes to smaller issues where Member States or regions are in a better position to take decisions. This approach aims at taking seriously the motto of the European Union, “United in Diversity”. To that effect, the Austrian Presidency will prioritise the role of the European Union as a Europe that protects, in particular concerning three priority areas: security and migration, maintaining competitiveness through digitalisation, and stability in the neighbourhood
1) Security and the fight against illegal migration
The consequences of Europe’s largest migration crisis since the Second World War and the concerns of citizens about further uncontrolled migratory flows have highlighted the importance of a joint approach in the fight against illegal migration and of securing the EU’s ability to act. At the centre of these efforts are the reform of the Common European Asylum System and the strengthening of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX, in order to guarantee the efficient protection of the EU’s external borders. Moreover, the aim is to work more closely with third countries in order to provide assistance to those in need of protection before they enter the EU and in order to ensure effective return policies. These topics will feature on the agenda of the informal summit of the Heads of State or Government held in Salzburg on 20 September 2018
2) Securing prosperity and competitiveness through digitalisation
The EU maintains its position as the world’s leading trade power and largest internal market. However, Europe’s share of global GDP and its economic power are in decline. To sustainably secure its prosperity and competitiveness, it is essential that the EU consistently avoids overregulation and makes progress in the fields of innovation and digitalisation. In addition, many EU citizens are concerned about the effects digitalisation may have on the economy and their personal lives. A considerable share of growth in the EU can already be attributed to the digital economy. With an intelligent policy of digital transformation, it will be possible to safeguard the competitiveness and sustainability of the European economy also in the future. By completing the Digital Single Market, modernising public administration at a broad scale and renewing industrial policy, framework conditions for digital business models and services can be improved. The Austrian Presidency aims at continuing the EU’s work on the taxation of the digital economy in order to ensure that profits are taxed in the country in which they are generated.
3) Stability in the European neighbourhood – EU perspective of the Western Balkans/ South Eastern Europe
A European Union that offers its citizens stability, peace and security is only possible in a stable and secure neighbourhood. To this end, during its Presidency, Austria will focus on promoting strong relationships between the EU and its neighbours. In this context, the Western Balkan/South Eastern European countries take centre stage. In terms of economic and security policy, this region belongs to Europe. Building on the work of the Bulgarian Presidency and the European Commission’s Enlargement Strategy presented on 6 February 2018, the Austrian Presidency will, along with its European partners, advocate for developing a concrete EU perspective for all Western Balkan/South Eastern European states based on clear criteria relating to their individual performance and work on achieving measurable progress.
We asked the Ambassador what the Austrian Presidency intends to do with the Brexit negotiations. The Ambassador answered that the Brexit negotiations are complex and difficult – considering the governmental crisis in the UK – but the discussions are expected to complete on time. She added that it is a matter that must be handled with professionalism.
Reporting: Panagiotis Sfaelos