Brexit casts its shadow
It must have been with some sense of relief that the Netherlands on the 1st of July handed over the rotating six-month EU Presidency to Slovakia. The EU was already embroiled in multiple crises – the influx of refugees, revelations of tax avoidance from the Panama papers, and the continuing economic situation in the South of Europe, to name a few – before the historic referendum of the 23rd of June in the UK.
“For the first time in history, we are required to concern ourselves with the practicalities and political ramifications of a Member State leaving the EU. At this juncture, it is vital that the EU engage in self-reflection” – Slovak Presidency Programme
Inevitably everything that happens in Brussels over the next few months will be viewed through the lens of an impending ‘Brexit’. The very first paragraph of the Presidency programme is about the UK, and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has admitted that the situation will have “considerable influence” over the Presidency’s agenda.
That influence took tangible form when the UK announced it would relinquish its upcoming Council Presidency, scheduled for the second half of 2017. In a conversation with European Council President Donald Tusk on 19 July, Prime Minister Theresa May suggested that Britain would need the time for its negotiations to leave the EU. The schedule has now been moved up six months, meaning Estonia will move forward to occupy Britain’s rotation. The change will be something of a relief for the Council, clearing at least one of the clouds of uncertainty hanging over Britain’s continuing participation in EU activities.
The news may be less welcome for Estonia. Already facing the prospect of managing Brexit through part of its tenure, it has now lost the consolation of occupying the Presidency during the country’s centenary. Estonia’s presidency was originally slated to coincide with the culmination of Estonia 100, marking the country’s foundation on 24 February 1918. Fortunately, Estonia will not miss out completely: the celebrations’ three-year timetable begins in spring 2017.
Despite this there is plenty of more day-to-day policy to keep Slovakia busy. The Juncker Commission has launched three major initiatives over the last couple of years, in the shape of the Digital Single Market, the Energy Union, and the Capital Markets Union. All three of these are in full swing, with plenty of legislation on the table, and the Presidency will be looking to bring some of this to conclusion as proof of its success.
Additionally, migration has been at the top of the agenda over the last year, with Slovakia one of the most vocal critics of how the EU has been handling the situation. Observers will therefore watch with interest to see whether the Presidency tries to steer policy in any particular direction. Prime Minister Fico has acknowledged that migration is a “divisive” issue among EU countries, but said Slovakia intended to create “space for discussion” of the problem.
In light of the recent terrorist attacks that have hit Europe, threats related to radicalisation and terrorism will feature high on the agenda too. Although the Member States bear the primary responsibility for internal security, the Presidency finds that an efficient and coordinated response at European level has become a necessity.
Read our briefing
To help you prepare for the new Presidency, which comes at a crucial time for the EU, DeHavilland EU has produced a briefing, looking at Slovakia’s main priorities in various policy areas, listing the key dates for the next six months, and introducing the ministers who will be chairing Council meetings.
The DeHavilland EU Team
Based in London and Brussels, the DeHavilland EU Team is dedicated to bringing clients informative and timely political information in a format that suits their needs.