Austria on Sunday took over the six-month rotating presidency over the European Union during which it plans to focus on security, the fight against illegal migration, the digitalisation of the European economy, and the stability the neighboring countries by working on the EU accession of Western Balkan countries.
“We are taking over the presidency of the Council at a time of tensions due to the migrant crisis, Brexit and international crises, and this is also the last full presidency before elections for the European Parliament,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in June at a meeting with EP leaders, announcing that Austria will contribute to cooperation within the EU.
He told media the Austrian Presidency would shift from the redistribution of refugees within the EU to the protection of the EU’s external borders. Austria sees its role as a neutral broker given its geographic location in the heart of the EU and its traditional role as a bridge builder, according to a presidency website.
Kurz, who advocates a tougher approach to immigration and maintains good relations with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has said he will try to bring closer the positions of the EU’s old and new member states. Austria has announced it will promote stronger EU relations with its neighbours, notably countries in Southeast Europe, which it says belong to Europe and have proved to be a reliable partner during the migrant crisis.
It is in the interest of Austria, the European economy and security that those countries have a future in the EU, so Austria will push for a concrete European perspective for all Western Balkan countries based on clear criteria for their individual achievements and measurable progress, Austria has announced.
In order to bolster the EU and trust in it, Austria will push for enhancing the principle of subsidiarity.
“The European Union should focus on big issues which require a joint solution and take a step back when it comes to smaller issues where member states or regions are in a better position to make decisions,” Austria stated, adding that this approach aims to take seriously the motto of the European Union, ‘United in Diversity’, and the ongoing debate on the future of Europe, notably the “Doing Less More Efficiently” scenario.
A deal on the UK’s exit from the EU and future relations between the two sides is expected to be signed during the Austrian presidency. The next six months will also include negotiations on the EU’s multiannual framework for the period after 2020.
Austria succeeds Bulgaria in presiding over the Council of the EU. It will be followed by Romania and Finland in 2019 and by Croatia in the first half of 2020.