“A Europe that protects” is the motto of the Austrian presidency of the Council of the EU, which the country took over from Bulgaria on 1 July, putting migration and security issues at the top of its priority list.
This is the third time Austria has held the presidency of the Council of the EU since joining the EU in 1995, after 1998 and 2006.
“During its presidency, Austria intends to take on the role of bridge builder in Europe and reduce the tensions that have recently arisen,” said Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz: “It is important to us to strengthen trust in the EU and ensure that the European Union can perform its big tasks.”
Under the motto of ‘A Europe that protects’, the Austrian government says it will focus on the following areas during its presidency: security and the fight against illegal migration, securing prosperity and competitiveness through digitalisation, and stability in the neighbourhood. The latter also includes the goal of supporting the continued efforts of the Western Balkan countries to move closer to the EU.
In addition, Austria says it will advocate strengthening the principle of subsidiarity: this means that the European Union should focus on big issues requiring a joint solution, while taking a step back when it comes to smaller matters where the member states or regions are in a better position to take decisions.
The main tasks of a country holding the presidency are to plan and chair the meetings of the Council and to represent the Council in relations with other European institutions. This gives Austria the opportunity to set its own priorities and to place issues on the Union’s agenda.
During its six-month stint, the country will become an important hub in EU politics: a total of approximately 48,000 guests are expected at around 300 events. In addition, a cultural framework programme in Brussels and Austria will showcase the diversity of Austrian art and culture at European level.
At a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg Tuesday, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the leaders of the major political groups urged Mr Kurz to pursue work on asylum reform, the euro area and the creation of a European monetary fund. Priority should also be given to discussing proposals for the EU’s new long-term financial framework in the Council, in order to reach an agreement with Parliament before the EU elections in May 2019, they added.