Bulgaria will take over the EU Presidency of the Council on 1 January 2018, following  Estonia, the current President. Together with Austria, the President from July 2018 – December 2018, they have agreed an 18-month programme, designed to follow up on the European Council’s Strategic Agenda adopted in 2014 and the initiatives of the Joint Declaration on the EU’s legislative priorities for 2017.

Bulgaria will also work to advance its own priorities which will be published in January and give the country an opportunity to focus national attention on the European Union. One of the most technically advanced member states, Estonia has focused heavily on the Digital Single Market during its Presidency. As the poorest country in the EU, Bulgaria will attach great importance to preserving EU cohesion policy. Austria is expected to focus on the most pressing challenges for EU citizens, notably security.

Specific actions to improve the European economy over the next 18 months will include actions in the five following areas:

1.Single Market

The European Single Market is the most significant sources of economic growth and the priority is to complete the different initiatives and actions of the Digital Single Market. Several initiatives are related to increasing cross-border e-commerce (online sales of goods, supply of digital content, copyright reform, audiovisual media services, parcel delivery), developing a smart economy (free flow of data, review of the telecoms regulatory framework, company law initiatives), and reinforcing trust and security in digital services (recent data protection package).

2.Entrepreneurship and job creation

Access to finance and investment is critical for EU businesses. Applying a “think small first” principle, the presidential trio has listed access to alternative forms of funding for SMEs and startups as a priority. They have also identified the skills challenges for the digital economy, especially by working on employability and mobility.

3.Environmental sustainability

Guided by the UN Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, the three presidencies are committing to circular economy, delivering on initiatives aimed at an efficient use of resources, reducing environmental impacts in production and consumption, and conducting actions towards a non-toxic environment.

4.Future investment

The new Multiannual Financial Framework for the period post-2020 is expected to be published by the European Commission in December. It is an essential tool to realise the investments in cross-border infrastructures, including digital, transport and energy, but also to finance the EU research programmes. Replacing soon the current Horizon 2020 research program, the incoming 9th Framework Programme will be at the heart of the discussions.

5.Economic and Monetary Union

To strengthen the Euro area through a deeper Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), the three presidencies will push for the completion of the Banking Union thanks to a banking reform package. To complement the banking sector in diversifying the financing sources to the economy, the measures described in the  Action Plan to Build a Capital Markets Union will be implemented and reviewed.