Now it’s over, Ambassador of Austria Dr Michael Zimmermann discusses their challenges and accomplishments
‘A Europe that protects’ was the motto chosen by Austria for its presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2018. In line with its pro-European government programme, it was important to the Austrian Federal Government to help shape the EU in a positive way. The Austrian Presidency focussed on the following areas:
• Security and the fight against illegal migration
• Securing prosperity and competitiveness through digitalisation
•Stability in the neighbourhood
• Strengthening the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ in the EU
FACTS AND FIGURES
In the second half of last year, 2,722 events and meetings took place under the Austrian Presidency. This included four meetings of heads of state and government, 36 Council of Ministers meetings in Brussels and Luxembourg, 2,062 sessions of Council preparatory bodies, 161 ‘trilogues’ with the European Parliament, seven European Parliament plenary sessions, 14 informal meetings of the various Council configurations and 363 other Presidency events. A total of 53 political agreements were reached with the European Parliament, and 75 agreements were achieved in the Council. 56 conclusions and recommendations were adopted, a further 509 decisions were taken by the Council and 52 legal acts were signed by the Council and the European Parliament.
The turnaround in migration policy decided upon by the European Council in June was affirmed. Since October 2015, the number of illegal arrivals has fallen by some 95 per cent, and the number of people dying in the Mediterranean has likewise decreased. The focus of migration policy has shifted to the protection of external borders and cooperation with third countries. The central Mediterranean route was de facto closed, with hardly any more arrivals. In addition, an agreement was reached under the Austrian Presidency to strengthen the Frontex mandate regarding the protection of external borders and cooperation with third countries.
During the Austrian Presidency, the EU succeeded in once again placing greater focus on the Western Balkans and initiating a new dynamic in the process of rapprochement for all countries with an EU accession perspective. During this period, Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz visited Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbiaand Kosovo. This led to the opening of two new negotiation chapters with Serbia and one with Montenegro. As an important step, the decades long name issue between Macedonia and Greece was finally resolved.
MEETING OF HEADS OF STATE AND GOVERNMENT IN SALZBURG
At the meeting of the 28 EU heads of state and government on 19 and 20 September in Salzburg, discussions focussed on important topics such as Brexit, the fight against illegal migration, internal security and cooperation with Africa. Among others, it was agreed to strengthen the European Border and coastguard and to step up the fight against all forms of cyber-crime, manipulations and disinformation. Furthermore, it was agreed to expand cooperation with third countries, including Egypt, and to organise a summit with the League of Arab States in February 2019. The 27 leaders also reconfirmed their full unity regarding Brexit negotiations.
SUBSIDIARITY CONFERENCE IN BREGENZ
Subsidiarity, a crucial cornerstone of a common Europe, was also a priority of the Austrian Presidency. The subsidiarity principle means that the EU should concentrate on solutions for big challenges – such as migration, security and climate change. At the same time, the institutions should take a step back when it comes to questions where Member States or regions are in a better position to take decisions themselves. A consistent application of this principle will bring the EU closer to its citizens and improve their trust in the EU.
On 15 and 16 November, the conference ‘Subsidiarity as a building principle of the European Union’ took place in Bregenz. The two-day conference discussed the principle of subsidiarity and the concrete application of this principle at European level.
ANTISEMITISM CONFERENCE IN VIENNA
In 2018, Austria commemorated the 80th anniversary of the ‘Anschluss,’ the annexation of Austria to Nazi-Germany. Austria has a special historical responsibility for combatting antisemitism in Europe and therefore convened the high-level conference ‘Europe beyond antisemitism and anti-Zionism – securing Jewish life in Europe’ on 21 November in Vienna, to promote concrete and sustainable steps to combat antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and to secure Jewish life in Europe and beyond.
Under the Austrian Presidency, the home affairs ministers adopted a declaration on the fight against antisemitism, which was also explicitly welcomed by the last European Council on 13-14 December 2018.
MULTIANNUAL FINANCIAL FRAMEWORK OF THE EU
Substantial progress was achieved on the next Multiannual Financial Framework of the EU budget for 2021-27. Austria was able to present a complete ‘negotiating box,’ and thus provided a solid foundation for Romania, who took over the Council Presidency from Austria.
Brexit was one the greatest challenges of the Austrian Presidency, and Austria did everything it could to maintain full unity among the EU 27. To this end, Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz met with British Prime Minister, Theresa May, several times for talks. Two meetings were held in London, with one of them occurring in July right at the beginning of the Austrian Presidency. These efforts proved to be successful. Despite the challenging situation, the EU position is clear: the text of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, as endorsed by leaders at a special meeting of the European Council on 25 November 2018, is not negotiable; it is now up to the UK to make a clear decision. The European Union still hopes a ‘hard Brexit’ can be avoided, and looks forward to the closest possible cooperation with the UK in the future.
HIGH LEVEL FORUM AFRICA EUROPE IN VIENNA
The High Level Forum Africa Europe on 17 and 18 December brought together almost 1,000 companies as well as heads of state and government from both continents. It served to strengthen the two continents’ long-term partnership, focussing on how digitalisation and innovation can support positive economic development in Africa and help to create jobs and training opportunities.
ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE PROTECTION
The last Council meeting to be chaired by Austria and the last Presidency event took place on 20 December. Ministers agreed on reducing CO2 emissions from trucks and buses by around 30 per cent by 2030. According to estimates, this new rule will lead to cuts of some 54 million tonnes of CO2 between 2020 and 2030. It was also agreed that heavy-duty vehicle manufacturers who do not comply with the emission targets will have to pay a fine. The Austrian Presidency also reached an agreement to lower CO2 emissions for passenger cars and vans by 37.5 per cent. In addition, the internal market in electricity directive was adopted and a reduction of single-use plastics was set in motion.
HANDOVER OF THE PRESIDENCY TO ROMANIA
On 21 December, the Federal Chancellor travelled to Bucharest to meet President Klaus Iohannis and Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă, to mark the handover of the Council presidency to Romania on 1 January 2019.
The European Union is currently going through a very challenging time. Following its 2018 Presidency of the Council of the EU, Austria will continue to dedicate all its efforts to the European Union and beyond.