Migratory crises, risk of implosion of the Schengen system, terrorist threat, more questions about Britain’s future within the EU and the rule of law dispute with the new Polish government: the European Union is facing a series of crises at the beginning of 2016 when the Netherlands take over the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The context of the 11th Dutch presidency
Paris, January 2016 – The Netherlands are experienced in holding the EU’s presidency, having already taken on the mantle 11 times. This time around, the pressure of organising high-level meetings and brokering legislative deals will be all the greater. “The European Union is being severely put to the test”, underlines the Dutch presidency. “Unity and resolve are needed at all levels. The effective combination of European and national measures will form an important basis for those solutions.”
Contarily to 2004, when the Netherlands last chaired the Council, there won’t be a big media spectacle, frequent change of venues, expensive image campaigns, including heads of State and governments riding on their bicycles in Amsterdam, the Dutch capital. This time, the presidency wants to be modest and efficient. There will be only one central venue, the National Maritime Museum and the surrounding Marine Etablissement, in Amsterdam.
The importance of the EU presidency is also lesser now than when the Netherlands last held it, 12 years ago. While Prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende was then somehow chairing the “EU government”, there is now a permanent president of the European Council (currently Donald Tusk) and a strengthened High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (currently Federica Mogherini), leaving the current Dutch Prime minister, Mark Rutte, with the the role of an honest and committed broker to help the EU find common solutions.
Mr Rutte also knows that the opinion of the Dutch population on the European Union isn’t as positive as it used to be. With the treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam, the Netherlands showed that they were at the forefront of a strong and inclusive Union. But public opinion changed a long time ago and today, the anti-European, anti-immigration right wing populist Geert Wilders is quite successful amongst Dutch voters. The anti-Europeans in the Netherlands have also imposed a national referendum on the Association Agreement of the EU with the Ukraine for April 2016, which could (as not binding) very much embarrass Dutch EU politics eleven years after the Dutch “No” to the EU constitution. In the Netherlands, Europe is often criticised for talking too much and not acting enough. The Dutch presidency wants to answer to these criticisms and focus on the essentials.
A presidency that wants to focus on the essentials
Against this background, the following three basic principles will be key during the Presidency: a Union that focuses on the essentials, that creates innovative growth and jobs, and that connects with society. Focusing on the essentials means the European Union must concentrate on what is important to its citizens and businesses.
The Netherlands are part of the new “troika” to hold the Presidency in turns between January 2016 and July 2017, together with Slovakia and Malta. The triumvirate established a joint, 18-month work programme for the Council.
The Netherlands will be focusing on four priority areas:
- a comprehensive approach to migration and international security;
- Europe as an innovator and job creator;
- sound, future-proof European finances and a robust eurozone;
- forward-looking policy on climate and energy
Priorities in the areas of Justice and Home Affairs
A Europe without internal borders needs common solutions in the area of justice, security, asylum and migration. The Netherlands Presidency will endeavour to take forward and help implement the European Agenda on Migration. It is looking to take steps resulting in a fair distribution of the first asylum seekers to arrive and the processing of applications for asylum, and the further improvement of the security of Europe’s external borders. In addition, in the medium term, migrants’ prospects in the regions in which they are initially received must be improved, in order to break the existing model of high-risk onward travel. The Netherlands Presidency will aim to address the various challenges arising in this area by means of an integrated European approach. This will include the successful implementation of the recent decisions on the relocation of 160,000 asylum seekers, the effective functioning of hotspots, and steps to foster operational cooperation between member states. The legislative proposals on a relocation mechanism and a European list of safe countries of origin will also feature prominently during the Presidency.
The Netherlands will take forward the discussion in the Council on the Commission’s border management package, which was presented in December and includes a stronger mandate for Frontex. The European Council of December 2015 called for a Council Position on this important issue during the Netherlands Presidency. The Commission also announced measures in its Work Programme to improve migration management, focusing on resettlement, a revision of the Dublin system and legal migration.
In the light of the current complex security situation and in the context of counterterrorism, the implementation of the EU Internal Security Strategy 2015-2020 is also of key importance. A coordinated European response is required in view of the transnational nature of cyber crime and cyber security issues, terrorism and organised crime, including human trafficking. This applies equally to preventive action on radicalisation. Working on the basis of existing instruments, the Netherlands Presidency will focus specifically on fostering effective operational cooperation and further improvements to the exchange of information, while maintaining data protection safeguards. It will also address the proposal to amend the framework decision on terrorism, improved rules on firearms and a proposal for a European Criminal Records Information System for third-country nationals. The efforts of the Netherlands Presidency will focus particularly on putting the instruments for improvements to counterterrorist measures into place as quickly as possible, in view of the great importance attaching to them.
Official launch of the EU Urban Agenda through the Pact of Amsterdam
One of the objectives of the Dutch Presidency is that the responsible Ministers adopt a declaration, the ‘Pact of Amsterdam’, establishing the EU Urban Agenda, its priorities and working methods. For this to happen, important elements have to be developed and some concrete actions need to be taken between now and the informal Ministerial meeting of May 30th, 2016. These elements and actions will be reported on the newly launched EU Urban Agenda website.
The Pact of Amsterdam will contain the Operational Framework of the EU Urban Agenda and will elaborate on the goals of the EU Urban Agenda. The focus will be on better regulation, better funding and better knowledge exchange. Furthermore it provides for a rolling agenda of priority themes, which will focus all actions within the Operational Framework and describes the set of actions and working method of the different actors involved.
During the Presidency, the first four partnerships will be launched namely, air quality, housing, urban poverty, integration of refugees and migrants. Also, the Conclusions of the Council on the EU Urban Agenda will be presented. These are needed to formalise the commitment of the member states to the EU Urban Agenda. The Council conclusions will be aimed at endorsement of the conclusions of the Pact of Amsterdam.
More information on the presidency’s website: www.eu2016.nl
Infographic on the Dutch presidency of the Council :
Also available in German