Bulgaria’s EU Game Plan

Bulgaria’s EU Game Plan

Legislation priorities for the first half of 2018


Bulgaria has had a hard time coming with catchy sets of initials for its priorities during the country's upcoming presidency of the Council of the EU. First, there were four C's (and Culture); then, Culture somehow was dropped; now, there are three C's and three S's (Cohesion, Competitiveness, Consensus and Solidarity, Security, Stability).

These slogans probably will feature in official documents and leaflets but will then be quickly forgotten). If you ask diplomats and lobbyists in Brussels what is important, their answer will likely be: "the working program" this referring to the lists of the legislative files that the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council will chose to move ahead. In a sense, the three C's and three S's serve as a broad strategy, while the working program provides a tactical game plan.

Game theory

Indeed, when it comes to real legislative work, big ambitions and catchy slogans in the end are transformed into sober bureaucratic realities. The working program embodies the back-and-forth of legislative proposals between institutions, something that council presidencies can only slightly amend. What the presidency can do is to shepherd one file at the expense of others. For example, the Bulgarian presidency is likely to push hard for proposals to free the movement of non-personal data online. The country is a growing service provider and outsourcing destination, roles to which the free flow of data is essential. The Bulgarian presidency is also likely to strive for common position amongst member states on the regulations for road cargo transport closer to its view. The road cargo companies are one of the big employers in the country.

Pushing for its own interests is not an easy task for a country holding the presidency. Impartiality is essential to the role. The presidency calls for balancing the interests of both large member states and small, and of Western and Eastern European member states, more conservative and more liberal countries.

The presidency also calls for the political skills necessary to maneuver EU institutions, including the Commission and the Parliament. The European Parliament is able block most of legislative proposals.

As an example, the current presidency, held by Estonia, a digital champion for the free flow of information over the internet, compromised on the reform of the copyrights and sided with the more conservative Germany and France. As a result, if current proposals for reform of the digital copyrights are adopted, internet platforms will be required to survey all users uploads to automatically filter copyrighted content.

In the case of the ETS (the EU carbon trading scheme) reform Estonia tried to accommodate the concerns of East European countries, many of which are still dependent on coal-fired power plants. The coal-dependent counties insisted that parts of the proceeds from the sales of the CO2 allowances to be used to finance modernization of coal-burning plants. Other member states disagreed. Thus, Estonia had to backtrack. In the end, the poor Bulgaria and Romania were the only member states to receive the right to subsidize the modernization of some of their old coal-fired power plants, but not, for example, the relatively richer Poland.

The presidency will need to do negotiate on different legislative stages. Sometimes it will need to reach common position among the member states on the European Commission proposals, before the European Parliament adopts it own position. Sometimes the presidency needs to navigate between the already adopted negotiating mandates of the Council and the Parliament and reach compromise and pave the way for the final adoption of the legislative act.

Here is a sample of some of the most important legislative files which will be discussed during the Bulgarian presidency. The information is compiled using the European Parliament legislative train schedule tool and various public announcements by Bulgarian officials.

Bulgaria has had a hard time coming with catchy sets of initials for its priorities during the country's upcoming presidency of the Council of the EU. First, there were four C's (and Culture); then, Culture somehow was dropped; now, there are three C's and three S's (Cohesion, Competitiveness, Consensus and Solidarity, Security, Stability).

These slogans probably will feature in official documents and leaflets but will then be quickly forgotten). If you ask diplomats and lobbyists in Brussels what is important, their answer will likely be: "the working program" this referring to the lists of the legislative files that the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council will chose to move ahead. In a sense, the three C's and three S's serve as a broad strategy, while the working program provides a tactical game plan.

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