What is the Council of the EU?

The Council of the EU is one of the two legislative bodies within the European Union (the second is the European Parliament). It consists of 28 ministers, one per each member state. The composition of the council varies based on the topic of discussion. If agriculture is the theme of the day, for example, all governments will send their minister of agriculture to participate in the discussions. The Presidency of the Council rotates every six months between the member states. States often try to take advantage of their EU presidency time to guide the program in the agenda according to their interests.

The Council of the European Union, often referred to as the Council, is one of the three core EU bodies, which represents the common interests of the Member States. The Council of the European Union, together with the European Council, is the main body in which national authorities interact, discuss and make decisions on EU legislation, measures and programs. In addition to sharing legislative responsibilities with the European Parliament, in line with the EC’s legislative and budgetary proposals, the Council is the main decision-making body with the task of coordinating measures and programs among Member States (eg by adopting frameworks, guidelines or recommendations) and tackling problems that may arise between governments. Furthermore, it has competence over the design and implementation of EU security and foreign policy.

How does the Council function?

The composition of the Councils is made up of the member states’ ministers grouped in areas of public policy. The EU Council negotiates and adopts EU regulations together with the European Parliament, coordinates policies in certain areas, establishes a common foreign and security policy for the EU, concludes EU agreements and adopts the EU budget. The Presidency of the Council of the EU rotates among the member states every six months. Croatia will for the first time chair the Council in 2020.

What is the difference between the Council of the European Union, the European Council and the Council of Europe?

THE COUNCIL OF THE EU is one of the two legislative bodies within the European Union (the second is the European Parliament). It consists of 28 ministers, one per each member state.

COUNCIL OF EUROPE is the oldest of the three bodies and is not an institution of the European Union. Founded in 1949, it has 49 members, including Germany, France, Turkey and Russia. The most important document of the Council of Europe is certainly the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedoms, for which the European Court of Human Rights is entitled to make representations to all citizens of the Council of Europe countries, or 820 million people, in cases of violation of the Convention’s rights.

THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL is the latest of three bodies. Although heads of state had a history of informal meetings to discuss key issues, it was only formally recognized by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009. The European Council determines the general political orientation and priorities of the EU. It is not a legislative institution of the EU and therefore does not negotiate or adopt EU laws. However, it sets out the EU policy program, usually by adopting conclusions at meetings of the European Council, which identify the problematic issues and measures to be taken. The European Council chooses the head of the European Central Bank.

What is the Presidency of the Council of the European Union?

The Presidency of the Council of the EU was established in 1958 as part of the European Economic Community and organized as a six-month presidency rotating between the original members. However, the presidency as we know it today is defined in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which has brought about various changes to increase the continuity and coordination of the Council under pressure from the growing European Economic Community. At the same time, it is often claimed that these changes have restricted and diminished the influence and power of the presidency.

Some of the key changes that led to the presidency were the separation of the European Council which is now lead by the newly-appointed long-term president (Donald Tusk), delegation of foreign policy and security matters from the presidency to the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the introduction of presidency trios in order to facilitate the transition between the presidencies and improve coordination and continuity.

Despite the described changes in the presidency, the main tasks remained the same: the presiding country represents the Council to other EU institutions, and its main task is to plan and conduct meetings in the Council and its preparatory bodies. In other words, ministers from the presiding member state organize and facilitate the discussion between the ministers of all member states in order to reach agreement and coordinate common interests and action.

What does the Presidency mean for Croatia?

For small and new Member States such as Croatia, ensuring adequate logistical, administrative and diplomatic capacity is a serious challenge, but also a maturity test in the eyes of other Member States. For example, according to estimates of the Croatian Government, Croatia will be responsible during the presidency for the organization of 1400 meetings at various levels in Brussels, about 20 meetings and conferences at the ministerial level, and 200-250 technical meetings to be held in Croatia as well as at least one summit of the EU leaders – for which it has already been announced that EU-Western Balkans relations will be in focus.

Member States are expected to assume several roles during the presidency. The most important task of the Presidency will be to prepare and preside over the composition of the Council and the working groups. This means that the Presidency must provide the chairman and spokesperson in each configuration, working group and board. It’s easy to imagine how much effort needs to be invested in preparing these activities, from knowledge and experience to logistics and structure. In theory, the Presidency is neutral and impartial, but in practice it still represents a political exercise in which diplomacy plays an important role, and political decisions must be made to reach a compromise.

The Presidency also gives the member state greater visibility in international media, as well as among other member states and European institutions. It creates a more fertile ground for potential partnerships and negotiations with various international actors. For example, preparing for the presidency, the Bulgarian government planned “more than 200 political and cultural events in Bulgaria, expecting more than 200,000 visitors”. Furthermore, the Presidency provides the Member State deeper insights and more concrete information on open issues to be negotiated, including the interests and attitudes of individual Member States on specific topics.

What is the role of the presidency trio?

The presidencies are implemented in the so-called trios – made up of three member states which preside the Council in succession. This system was introduced by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. The Trio sets long-term goals and prepares a joint program by defining the topics and main issues to be addressed by the Council over a period of 18 months. Based on this program, all three states prepare their detailed six-month programs.

Each country presides over a period of six months, but its leadership is considered part of the trio to which this country belongs. Three consecutive presidencies make a trio and are expected to agree on common long-term goals and priority issues, and have the task of co-operating on a common agenda that serves as the foundation of each program. Since solving most of the issues and proposals requires more than six months, such a grouping should provide a period of 18 months (or three presidencies) in order to ensure a higher level of continuity. In addition, the presiding trio should create an environment in which less experienced countries receive support from more experienced partners in the trio.

What are the priorities of the trio of Romania-Finland-Croatia

A key tool for achieving common goals and meeting the commitments undertaken is the completion of unresolved issues from the current strategic program, the management of the Union’s consolidation process after Brexit in the first half of 2019, discussing the future of the 27 member states as well as the completion of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021 – 2027 (Budget of the European Union – MFF), as established by the multiannual financial framework. Three Presidencies are committed to completion of MFF negotiations for the period 2021-2027, in close co-operation with the President of the European Council. For the Three Presidencies, that will be a key priority. In addition, three presidencies will endeavor to complete sectoral proposals related to the next VFO.

The Romania-Finland-Croatia Trio Program covers the following priority areas:

  • Workplaces, growth and competitiveness
    • Within this theme, issues will be tackled with regard to the single market, entrepreneurship and job creation, investments in the economic and monetary union.
  • A Union that empowers and protects all its citizens
    • The topics to be highlighted include: education and lifelong learning; implementation of policies aimed at strengthening the social dimension; labor market, mobility, inclusiveness and excellence; equal opportunities and social inclusion, the area of ​​public health to provide all EU citizens with access to health care, patient safety and mobility, and taking advantage of opportunities offered by new medical technologies.
  • Towards an Energy Union with a Progressive Climate Policy
    • As part of this theme, the objective is to strengthen the EU’s leading role in achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement, to define models for financing the fight against climate change, to establish a long-term EU strategy for low carbon emissions, to complete the negotiations on a clean energy package and to complete the negotiations on proposals within a mobility package, including in particular climate-related initiatives.
  • The Union of Freedom, Security and Justice
    • The three presidencies underline their commitment to the rapid adoption of new guidelines for the development of the area of ​​freedom, security and justice to be developed by the European Council. In this regard, they emphasize the need for a comprehensive approach to migration combining more effective control of the EU’s external borders, enhanced external action and internal aspects in line with EU principles and values. Also, the goal is to finalize the reform of the common European asylum system, which involves reaching a consensus on the Dublin Regulation.
  • The Union as a powerful global actor
    • The three Presidencies, together with the Member States, will closely cooperate with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission and support her in implementing the agreed priorities of the EU’s global strategy, ensuring consistency of EU foreign policy and strengthening the relevant links between internal and external policies of the Union. They will endeavor to ensure that the Union has, in the period between 2021 and 2027, all the necessary financial and legal instruments necessary to carry out these tasks. The three Presidencies confirm their commitment to enlargement, which is still a key policy of the European Union, in particular to ensure a credible prospect of enlargement within agreed parameters for the Western Balkans.

What are the priorities of the Republic of Croatia?

The priorities of the Republic of Croatia have not yet been published, but it is expected that they will largely overlap with the priorities of the presidency trio Romania-Finland-Croatia. It is customary that the presiding states announce their priorities one month before the beginning of their presidency, because part of their priorities depends on which of the topics will be successfully closed during the presidency of the state preceding them. Some of the possible priorities of Croatia could be the Western Balkans and the European Union’s enlargement policy, the rule of law and the improvement of economic growth and employment policies.

What is the role of citizens and civil society in the presidency

The non-governmental sector can be involved in a number of preparatory activities of the Presidency at the national and European level: educate the public, advocate, inform and promote the image of Croatia during the presidency, and coordinate with other civil society actors from the trio. There are several advantages of engaging in such preparations, such as: increased visibility and capacity, strengthening and building of international platforms and national NGOs, and strengthening relations with decision-makers. During and before the Croatian EU Presidency, non-governmental organizations have the opportunity to advocate topics of considerable interest for them by organizing events and debates in the country and in Brussels, by holding informative meetings, launching and implementing projects, as well as taking positions and advocating. It is especially important that organizations dealing with issues highlighted in the Trio program, such as the fight against climate change, education and social inclusion, security of labor and workers, migration, asylum and refugee rights, regional cooperation and EU enlargement, and related policies to build peace, democratization and global co-operation, proactively engage in public debates on these issues to provide citizen support for influencing these topics in line with the values ​​of civil society and the EU.

How can I be included in the presidency process?

Croatian Platform for International Citizen Solidarity – CROSOL, a non-partisan and non-profit civil society organization active in the field of international development cooperation and humanitarian aid, provided funds for civil society involvement in the preparation and implementation of Croatia’s EU Presidency through the project Towards an Open, Fair and Sustainable Europe in the World – The EU Presidency Project 2019-2021.

Project activities will ensure the involvement of Croatia’s civil society organizations in setting up a Croatian presidency agenda: organizing public discussions across Croatia with a goal of familiarizing civil society and citizens with the process, content and goals of the presidency; the organization of public relations activities towards the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the Parliament with the aim of ensuring the inclusion of themes of importance for civil society in the presidency; organization of consultations with civil society organizations; monitoring preparations for chairing and reporting to the public, as well as listening to public opinion and involving citizens in the presidency through thematic discussions.

All presidency related activities can be followed at www.crosol.hr, as well as the Facebook profile www.facebook.com/crosolplatform/.

If you want to contact us directly, please write to crosol@crosol.hr