In the second half of 2018, Austria is holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU). The motto of the Austrian Presidency is ‘A Europe that protects’, and Austria will focus on three key areas: security and migration; securing competitiveness through digitalisation; and stability in the European neighbourhood.
Security and the fight against illegal migration
Austria believes that is vital for the EU to continue the fight against illegal migration. The focus of the Austrian Presidency priorities lies on the reform of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX in order to guarantee the efficient protection of the EU’s external borders. The Presidency aims to work more closely with third countries in order to ensure effective return policies and to provide assistance to those in need of protection before they enter the EU while, on the other hand, preventing those not in need of protection from setting off on the dangerous crossing to Europe. The Heads of State or Government will deal with these issues at their informal summit held in Salzburg on 20 September 2018.
The Austrian Presidency will advocate efficient cooperation of and information exchange between the security authorities of individual Member States as well as the interoperability of the relevant large databases. Furthermore, joint efforts are needed also at European level to combat terror threats and radicalisation of all kinds.
Securing prosperity and competitiveness through digitalisation
The Austrian Presidency considers that to sustainably secure prosperity and competitiveness, it is essential that the EU consistently avoids overregulation and makes progress in the fields of innovation and digitalisation. The Austrian Presidency is aware that many of the EU citizens are concerned about the effects that the digitalisation may have on the economy and their personal lives. A considerable share of growth in the EU can already be attributed to the digital economy, and it can be sustained in the future by ensuring a smart and thorough digital transfiguration policy. Completing the Digital Single Market, modernising public administration on a broad scale and renewing industrial policy will improve framework conditions for digital business models and services.
For the digital economy to develop its full potential and to benefit everybody, a modern and balanced regulatory framework is required. The Austrian Presidency aims at continuing the work on the taxation of the digital economy in order to ensure that profits are taxed in the country in which they are generated.
Stability in the European neighbourhood – EU perspective of the Western Balkans
Building on the work of the Bulgarian Presidency and the European Commission’s Enlargement Strategy presented on 6 February 2018, the Austrian Presidency will advocate for developing a concrete EU perspective for all Western Balkan states based on clear criteria relating to their individual performance and work on achieving measurable progress.
Priority issues for Latvia during the Austrian Presidency
The central issue for Latvia during the Austrian Presidency will be the talks on the EU budget for 2021–2027. Beginning in July and to the end of the year, Latvia’s key challenge will be to represent its interests in meetings at various levels, from experts to Heads of State and Government at the December 2018 European Council. Latvia finds the European Commission’s proposal of May 2018 for the EU Multiannual Financial Framework unacceptable. It is important for us that convergence remains one of the top priorities reflected in the budget, namely, that the allocation of cohesion funding focuses on regions with a GDP below the EU average, and disparities in direct payments are removed under the Common Agricultural Policy. Latvia will also advocate appropriate financing to the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), which is a key funding instrument supporting the Rail Baltica project.
Latvia expects that the Austrian Presidency will work to implement agreements on migration achieved at the European Council on 28 June: intensifying efforts to strengthen the external dimension of the EU’s migration policy (strengthening of external borders and FRONTEX, improved cooperation with countries of transit and origin, especially in Africa, promotion of effective return, the fight against trafficking in migrants); working out solutions to the creation of regional disembarkation platforms in line with international law; continuing work on a universally acceptable, sustainable, crisis-resistant solution to reform the Common European Asylum System. We will also closely follow that the compliance with the principle of voluntary resettlement approved at the European Council of 28 June is respected.
During the Austrian Presidency, a consensus is expected to be reached on the Withdrawal Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and a declaration on a framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom. In the context of a declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, Latvia will advocate a document reflecting the need for a close cooperation between the EU and the UK on matters highly important to Latvia: trade, economic cooperation, home affairs and justice, as well as defence, security and foreign affairs, with due respect for the integrity of the EU Single Market (the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people) and the autonomy of EU decision-making.
As before, Latvia will support efforts towards the deepening of the EU Single Market, with the focus on service sector initiatives. Agreement should be made concerning the European services e-card proposal and a balanced solution should be sought on the Mobility Package – the one that makes it possible to strengthen the Single Market instead of backtracking on what has been achieved.
Latvia welcomes the Austrian Presidency’s commitment to make the best progress possible in the creation of the Digital Single Market. Latvia supports the aim of the Austrian Presidency to achieve a common position on the review of the Directive on the re-use of public sector information (PSI Directive). In the field of copyright, Latvia supports the aim of the Austrian Presidency to complete the work on the Regulation laying down rules on the exercise of copyright and related rights applicable to certain online transmissions of broadcasting organisations and retransmissions of television and radio programmes, and the Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market.
Latvia expects that work will continue on strengthening the Energy Union and its principles. We believe that amendments to the Gas Directive should be adopted, as they will improve the functioning of the EU’s internal natural gas market and provide legal certainty concerning the existing and planned gas pipeline projects connecting the EU with third countries.
In the transport sector, Rail Baltica is the largest and most important rail infrastructure project in the region and one of the priority projects under TEN-T (Trans European Transport Network). Latvia will continue to advocate the allocation of further EU funding appropriate for the importance of the project in the next multiannual budget period.
Latvia supports the aim of the Austrian Presidency to bring the Western Balkans countries closer to the European Union. The EU’s interest and involvement in the Western Balkans should be sustained. We expect that the integration of the region’s countries with the EU will continue throughout the Presidency period depending on individual performance of each country based clear criteria.
Latvia supports the activities planned by the Austrian Presidency in the field of the Eastern Partnership (meetings of the Council of the EU in different configurations with participation of representatives from the EU Eastern Partnership countries, an EU Eastern Partnership Business Forum, a Youth Conference, and a Civil Society Forum). Latvia will continue advocating the facilitation of reform in the EU Eastern Partnership countries.
Latvia welcomes the continuing development of the EU security and defence sector during the Austrian Presidency. Further action should be taken to implement the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). The facilitation of military mobility in the EU territory is a matter of special importance to Latvia; therefore, we expect progress in this field, where close coordination with NATO is vital. It is important to arrive at an agreement on criteria for the involvement of third countries in PESCO projects by the end of the year. Further steps should be taken towards the development of civilian capabilities: a civilian capability development plan and a political level document on civilian capability development will be produced by the end of the year. The creation of the European Defence Fund should continue; and we are happy that the Austrian Presidency’s attention is directed at encouraging participation of small and medium-sized companies. Resilience in the fight against hybrid threats should also be enhanced, including through cooperation with NATO and implementation of the already formulated proposals for the EU-NATO cooperation in that area.