*the EU should be seen as divided into core vs periphery.
For most of the next two and a half years — a critical period for the future direction of the EU — the bloc’s rotating presidency will be in the hands of countries from among the new, eastern member states. This is reviving the debate about a single speed vs a multi-speed Europe, and to what extent, if at all, the EU should be seen as divided into core vs periphery.
Estonia, which joined the EU in the first wave of eastwards accession in 2004, currently holds the presidency. It will be followed by Bulgaria (July-December 2018), Austria (January-June 2019), Romania (July-December 2019) and Finland (January-June 2020).
Holding the EU presidency can’t exactly be said to give a nation the chance to lead the EU, and following the adoption of the Lisbon treaty, rival presidencies such as those held by the European Council president and the president of the Eurogroup have responsibility for various areas previously the domain of the EU presidency. Yet it still gives scope to set the agenda and influence proceedings and negotiations at the EU level.
This means that three new member states, and two that are closely enmeshed with Eastern Europe for geographic and historic reasons, will hold the presidency thoughout the expected exit of the UK from the EU, the intense debate over how to handle fallout from the migration crisis and — more broadly — the ongoing challenge to the post-Cold War liberal world order.
And two of the Eastern European states set to take up the presidency are those that have long been seen as the black sheep of the union, Romania and Bulgaria. Neither state is yet a member of the Eurozone or the Schengen area, and their activities in the fight against corruption and organised crime are still monitored under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).
Indeed, after their entry to the bloc many questioned whether they should have been let in at all, and their experience of getting up to speed post-accession is seen as one of the reasons for the abrupt slowing of the enlargement process since 2007.
A full decade after they joined the EU, all this is a considerable source of chagrin to Romania and Bulgaria, and there is speculation that their combined year at the helm of the EU will see a push for a rethink of the current framing of core vs periphery.
Romania in particular stands out from the so-called “illiberal democracies” of the wider CEE region, notably Hungary and Poland. Enthusiasm for EU membership is among the highest rates seen in the 28-member bloc in Romania, and the governments of both Romania and Bulgaria are still keen to pursue entry to the Eurozone, even while they admit their economies aren’t ready yet.
At the Aspen Institute’s annual Bucharest Forum on October 5, ministers from both countries stressed that they want to see a greater focus on unity, and less on core vs periphery going forward.
In his keynote address, Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melanescu argued that the EU should go beyond the core/periphery framing and other traditional dichotomies. “It is essential to use flexible and variable speed scenarios with prudence, keeping them as measures of last resort. The EU should aim for as much unity as possible and as much flexibility as strictly necessary,” he said.
This was echoed by the Minister for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU Lilyana Pavlova,, who commented that: “We are not in favour of a multi-speed Europe, obviously. We have been working so far to have unity … minimising differences.
“Together with Romania, we say we shall not be divided into east and west, rich and poor but we shall be looking for unity. That’s why the message for our presidency is ‘United we stand strong’,” Pavlova added. Not only that, but Sofia plans to focus its presidency on further integration with the aspiring member states of the Western Balkans.
The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at : com.ua
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