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Presidency of the Council of the EU: Estonian-Bulgarian Handover Event

On 30 January the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) hosted the upcoming event of the Stronger Together – Mapping a New Path for the European Union event series. The program was dedicated to the handover event of the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union between the outgoing presidency of Estonia and the incoming presidency of Bulgaria. The event was organized by the IFAT, and supported by the State Secretariat for European Union Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office.

The event brought together H.E. Ulyana Bogdanska, Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to Hungary, H.E. Rein Oidekivi, Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia to Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Switzerland and Balázs Molnár, Deputy Secretary of State from the Department for EU Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office. The roundtable discussion was moderated by Sejla Almadi, research fellow of the IFAT.

Following the opening remarks of Ambassador Márton Schőberl, Director of IFAT, Mr. Oidekivi evaluated the Estonian presidency. The ambassador stated, that the presidency had begun in a very intense period, politically speaking: as the United Kingdom did not want to fulfill its presidency of the Council of the EU, the Estonian presidency had to start half a year earlier than planned originally. Further, several European key elections were held in the last six months. To sum up, the Estonian presidency “was not so bad” – at least according to a number of positive feedbacks, which they received by partners. He said that among the priorities of their presidency the digitalization agenda was emphasized particularly. According to the Ambassador, there is a lot of similarity between the main objectives of the Estonian-Bulgarian-Austrian presidency trio, only the “headlines” are different. Regarding the state of the European integration, he told it is in a better shape than it was a year ago.

Considering the challenges of the Bulgarian presidency, Ms Bogdanska stated that they have to carry on “over 300 dossiers”, the digital one is of particular importance. According to the Ambassador, the fact that the three consecutive presidencies are working in a trio gives a special dynamics to the cooperation. At the same time, she expressed her gratefulness, that the Bulgarian presidency is in the middle of the trio, as the closing presidency will be a particularly difficult task. The priority of the Bulgarian presidency will be characterized by the so called 3Ss: security, stability and solidarity. At the same time, it will handle the case of the European integration of the Western Balkans as a priority.

Balázs Molnár started his speech by thanking the Estonians for stepping up half a year earlier because of the Brexit. Reminding the audience to the motto of the EU – united in diversity – he continued stating that not more, but a better and stronger Europe is needed. Digitalization is indeed an important topic, but we should see that the EU is not a leading actor in this field at all. Regarding the migration and asylum policy he said, Hungary rejects the mandatory relocation quotas, while at the same time she expresses solidarity by other means, highlighting the financial contribution of V4 countries to Italy for the protection of maritime borders. The maintenance of the Schengen acquis is of particular relevance from the Hungarian point of view, though the current system is a bit malfunctioning, as we have not well protected external; and overprotected internal borders. The Western Balkans are also a priority for the Hungarian Presidency of the Visegrad Group, the early integration of the region to the European communities is essential, because other actors are interested in stepping in the shoes of Europa, whom we do not necessarily share common interests.

Please find the photos of the event here!