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Rotational change of the Presidency of the EU

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Shortly before the expiry of the Slovenian presidency of the EU the Irish said “NO” to the Lisbon Treaty. The next country to preside the Union on the rotation principle – France – confirmed its 4 priorities. They are: climate and energy; immigration; joint European defense and support for agriculture. “As you can see, they are not affected by the Irish “NO”, said for Radio Bulgaria Toon Streppel, director of the Information Office of the European Parliament in Bulgaria. So life goes on and the conclusions from the Irish decision should be drawn and analyzed by the end of the year.” In today’s programme along the project “Now – Interacting with the European Parliament” we shall be talking about the rotational presidency of the EU, about what a member country is doing in the 6-months period while presiding the Union. The occasion is the passing over of the Union’s presidency from Slovenia to France on July 1.

The rotational presidency – the equality of all countries is one of the greatest values of the EU. Here is more from Associate Professor Yulia Zaharieva from the Law Department of Sofia University St. Climent of Ochrida: “What may sound as new are the groups of three countries taking over within 18 months. Practically nothing changes because each country takes up its own 6-months period of presidency. It only guarantees better continuity and synchronization in their work. The order of presidency is determined by the Council of Ministers and each country is informed about when its turn would be. Bulgaria is related to the year 2018. When the EU consisted of 6 countries, the rotation was in alphabetical order. Now there is an unofficial agreement that small and large countries would be alternating to avoid the formation of a trinity of large and powerful countries only followed by the opposite combination. As to the priorities of a presidency, they are the responsibility of the presiding country, which has to be ready with its programme six months before taking over. It has to point out which issues it considers most substantial, which subjects deserve greater attention. Presidency is quite a burdening function. So far there has been no criticism towards any presiding country. On the contrary – their merits are put forth. For example, the preparation and signing of the Lisbon Treaty within 100 days, is a record term. On this occasion special tribute is paid first to the German and then to the Portuguese presidency”, Professor Zaharieva claims.

“Slovenia has been working in close cooperation with Germany and Portugal in the so-called first trio, said Bulgaria’s Ambassador to Ljubljana Vladimir Atanassov. Slovenia was intentionally supported by these two countries of rich experience in presidency. Obviously the way Slovenia is developing politically and economically has made it possible for it to be included in this strong company. The priorities of the three were put forth by all of them and there has been no break of rhythm in their work. Slovenia fulfilled all its priorities – enhancing dialogue on the process of enlargement with an accent on the Western Balkans and discussions on the statute of Kosovo; secondly – the energy policy of the EU, coordinating of energy policies, avoiding possible dependence on larger producers and importers; and last but not least – climatic changes and their effect on working conditions and the way of life etc. A serious accent in Slovenia’s presidency was also the dialogue between cultures and religions. It coincided with the first half of the European year of intercultural dialogue. In Slovenia this dialogue is at a very high level. There are no irrelevant issues. Once they are identified on the part of the citizens the institutions are to answer. The “deafness” of institutions, as known from previous times, is now non-existent. This is one of the good examples Slovenia has given, especially in its capacity of EU presiding country.”

Our colleagues and co-authors along this project from Ivelynes Radio – France have conducted a poll in the streets of Versailles. The respondents are predominantly young people. Our French colleagues have asked them the question whether they know their European Parliament Members; whether they are acquainted well enough with the institutions of the EU and the European Parliament in particular.

“That does not concern me really because I am a foreigner, a young man responds. I come from the Dominican Republic and I am student here in France but I am not voting in political elections.”

“I am not really oriented with political issues either, explains another young man. Rather, I am not interested in all that at all, even tough I have been prompted to go voting. As far as I know the date for the next elections for European parliament is getting near. I’ve been told the elections are next year.”

“I think there are many laws voted on a European level that have a direct impact on us in France – bills that we know almost nothing about, says another inhabitant of Versailles. What the portion of these laws is I don’t know. But I know that European legislature as a whole has a priority over French one. This is the global tendency. But there exist details in which the jurisdiction of the individual member-states dominates over European laws.”

“We are living in a time when people expect results so that they can say: Europe is doing something for us. That is what former French President and former chairman of the European convent on the future of Europe Valery Giscard d’Estaing said in Sofia before a wide audience during his visit to Bulgaria on the eve of France’s taking up the presidency of the EU. Here is what he further said about the priorities of his country: “Some member-countries who successfully managed the funds they were given in support during the period of transition, like for example France and Portugal, build up an efficient transport network. Similar to them, Europe could create a fast transport grid of low energy cost, making easier the movement across the Union. Europe could also build up a joint vision and approach to energy. We are 500 million but we dispose of no local energy sources. So we have to seek a solution to that problem and attain energy independence, security of supplies and a diversification of production sources, and if necessary – nuclear energy including. We would also have to plunge into the great scientific adventure of our times. The Treaty of Lisbon contains an article according to which Europe should turn to outer space. Truly enough this task is not directly related to our daily life. Word is here of the need for a joint support for this idea with the aim of achieving the large-scale technological and scientific development of the Union. As to the European Charter on migration and political asylum, we are at the moment 13 countries making up the Shengen space spreading over Central and Western Europe. The rules for entering this space, however, should be harmonized with the laws of all 13 countries. For the purpose we need a European charter for migration and asylum. On the other hand we should direct our efforts towards the building up of a European political community. The measures for achieving this goal are present in the Lisbon Treaty, which clearly defines the EU as the unification of separate states, which however retain their identity but exercise together certain potentials on the federative principle. And we should be working together for achieving this political community because the world we are living in would be growing ever more complex and the development of large and densely populated areas would not be passing without quakes in view of economic and demographic development. In this complex world Europe should put forth its voice, its values and protect its interests. We should gradually build up a foreign policy of joint security. And finally we should create conditions for the development of a European citizenship. Because when you are asked where you come from, you answer, “I am Bulgarian” without thinking of saying “I am European”. Yet you are as Europeans as you are Bulgarians. But still European citizenship and identity are in their cradle. I hope they would keep growing all across Europe.” Former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing said in Sofia.

The future enlargement of the EU is a subject that strongly concerns the Balkan region. Negotiations are under way with Croatia and Turkey. Other Balkan countries are also waiting at the threshold of the EU. We offer you next the opinion of Murad Bilhan, member of the Executive Council of TASAM – Turkish-Asian Center for Strategic Studies. The question we asked him was: “Is Turkey ready for membership to the EU?”

“From the economic point of view, considering its marked economy, the country’s potential and the competitiveness of most branches – yes, it is ready. But from the political point of view certain countries use the political situation in Turkey as a pretext for postponing its membership. Turkey is as ready to join the EU as other countries wishing to become members or are already in. Turkey is facing artificial obstacles. The Cyprus issue should not be a criterion for our accession. France is of the stand that during its presidency it would follow the normal procedure in view of Turkey’s admission, without hampering the process. We hope France would change its approach to Turkey and show respect for the international law principle of “Pacta sunt servanda” as well as for moral principles. The president of France has made certain promises in view of Turkey and we hope he would keep them. We know that the 12 latest EU members are not opposing Turkey’s accession to the EU. Turkey has very special relations with Bulgaria. We have friendly relations in many spheres and we are supporting one another in many aspects. From the very beginning Turkey has been supporting Bulgaria’s membership to NATO. We are neighbors and we have no differences of interests. I think that Bulgaria’s presidency would have a very positive effect on Turkey”, Mr. Bilhan concludes.

Would the enlargement of the EU be an accent during the French presidency? This is a question we have addressed to the Ambassador of France to Bulgaria Etienne de Poncins.

“We should well discern the notions when it comes to enlargement. At present the EU is conducting enlargement talks with two countries – Croatia and Turkey, Ambassador de Poncins explains. We have clearly said that during our presidency we would do our duty in that respect. The process of accession negotiations is conducted through agreements on the respective chapters. So during our presidency, if we have to, we would be opening and respectively closing negotiations chapters the way we are expected. Meanwhile President Nicolas Sarkozy has clearly pointed out that one of the conditions for the future enlargement of the EU is the entrance into force of the Lisbon Treaty. That treaty would allow us to work better together. So we have two aspects – on the one hand we have routine procedures related to the accession talks with Croatia and Turkey; on the other hand we have to clarify under what conditions can we receive a new member-country. For the purpose we need the action of the Lisbon Treaty. Nowadays most advanced in this process is Croatia. Experts however do not envisage its accession to be possible earlier than 2010.”

Would France be severe in view of Turkey?

“No, France would not be more severe. Taking up the presidency of the EU means to work in the name of common interest. So France’s presidency would work for the more efficient functioning of the EU. As I said, negotiations are in process and so if the Commission and our partners say that one chapter or another should be opened, then of course, we would proceed with the obligations our presidency entails and we would open the respective negotiation chapters with Turkey.”

What is the European perspective of the Balkan region?

“We have always said that the future of the Balkans is within the framework of the European Union. There is no doubt that all these countries belong to Europe and would one day join the Union. They just have to meet the criteria related to the building of a democratic society, of economic reforms etc. Their belonging to Europe cannot be questioned. Things stand differently with Turkey, though. There is a debate among member-countries and the citizens of Europe about to what an extent is Turkey a European country. But that is quite another subject!”

The French have rejected the European Constitution. What is their attitude in view of the Treaty of Lisbon after the negative vote of the Irish?

“No, their attitude has not changed. We support the Lisbon Treaty, which was ratified on the part of France’s parliament with a very large majority. Word is here of a Treaty, which is directed towards the functioning of the Union and allows the 27 member-countries to perform more efficiently our daily functions within the Union.”

What are the lessons from the Irish referendum for the European Parliament? How should its messages change in the election year 2009? We have addressed this question to the Director of the Information Office of the EP in Bulgaria, Mr. Toon Streppel. “What we have to learn is to try to get the same interest for European elections. Well, while I was thinking about this question, I remembered the speech made by Bundespresident Koehler in Germany (last week) in his so-called Berliner Rede of 17th of June, where he was talking about all those people tired of politics and politicians. And he said it very strongly – it is your democracy and please, help us to make something out of it. And you – the people – you have many opportunities to do so, and it would be good for our country, if more women and men from all parts of our society would strengthen our political parties with their personal knowledge and their political ideas. I think it’s that what we have to tell the people preparing the European elections. Please, be a democrat, use your right to vote, and with a high turnout you could send the right people to Europe to shape your future. So, indeed, we have to draw some consequences out of the fact that in Ireland, well, firstly the result was negative, seen from our point of view, but the turnout was high.”

Dear listeners, this feature is broadcast by Radio Bulgaria, RFI-Romania and Iveline Radio – France along the project “Now – Interacting with the European Parliament”, carried through on the part of the European Institute with the financial support of the General Directorate “Communication” of the EP. Your questions, comments and suggestions are welcome to this station as well as on our e-mail address . For more details you may consult the website  

Authors: Maya Pelovska, Rumyana Tsvetkova, Bilge Mehmed, Veneta Nikolova, Daniela Konstantinova
Music Editor: A. Radoslavova
English version: Iva Letnikova

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