Assessment of the Key Priorities of Dutch Presidency in 2016

Sibel KARABEL
25 January 2016
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On 1 January 2016, the Netherlands took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) from current holder Luxembourg for the next six months. After 12 years, this will be the Netherland’s 12th term in office. As a part of ‘Troika system’, the country will share the responsibility to formulate the priorities of the Council with Slovakia and Malta jointly. On the other hand, the key principles of the Presidency has been outlined in the letter to the EU Parliament on 28 January 2015 that can be read as a sign of Netherland’s well-preparedness to the task. Indeed, Dutch presidency might be expected to have minimal problems with respect to alignment with the European Commission’s (EC) agenda, as the country is one of the founding members of the EU. Besides, the country is fully integrated to the EU policy realms. This is highly visible when the Juncker Commission’s work program in 2014 is compared to the Dutch Presidency’s key priorities. In most cases, the focal points of each bear resemblance to a large extent.

 

Given considerable changes in the European and international juncture, it might be argued that it would be one of the toughest times to assume the Presidency of the Council of the EU. As such, since the last presidency of the Netherlands in 2004, the EU has encountered a Eurozone crisis, a refugee crisis, the biggest enlargement in its history and the increasing threat of terrorism. Apparently, to a considerable degree the agenda of the Dutch Presidency reflects the constraints that the EU confronts with. In the face of such challenges, the range of issues varies from fight against terrorism, Brexit to migration crisis. Indeed, as a timely cause of disagreement, it is hardly surprising to see that ‘migration crisis’ is placed at the forefront of the priorities list.

 

Evaluation of Focal Priorities

 

In general, the Presidency highlights four themes to be focused on during its leadership as:

  • Embracing comprehensive approaches to migration and international security
  • Developing sound finances and a robust Eurozone
  • Sustaining Europe as an innovator and job creator
  • Adopting forward-looking climate and energy policy.
  •  

On the migration issue that tops the agenda of the Europe as a whole, it is clear that the Union definitely needs a well-designed border and migration policy at the EU level. The Presidency offers to counter the challenges to manage migration flows by recalibrating its strategy through ‘refugee relocation program’. In addition to that, it aims to improve ‘Common European Asylum System’. Yet, given Slovakia’s (which will hold Presidency on 1 July 2016) firmly opposition to the reallocation of refugees in terms of quantity, it is clear that the Presidency will have to tackle contradictions related to this important issue. On the other hand, in continuity with the European approach on strengthening the efficiency of ‘border-free zone’, the Netherlands proposed a ‘Mini Schengen’ area in November 2015. However, this offer which aimed at shrinking the already Schengen Area has not been welcomed by most of the other states (1).

 

One of the most eye-catching points is that the Dutch Presidency aims at creating a clear task divide between the member states and the EU institutions. In accordance with the motto ‘European where EU necessary, national where possible’ the Netherlands not only attempts to improve the quality of the EU legislation but also seeks to integrate the European public during its presidency. In line with the Juncker Commission’s agenda over the emphasis on job creation and growth, the Council underscores the importance of innovation to boost European competitiveness and growth. To that purpose, as a historically trade-driven country, Netherlands would be expected to push for economic reforms like eliminating barriers to innovation in the internal market.

 

On the issue over the discussions of the UK’s possible exit from the Union, the Presidency would come to an agreement with some of the terms of the UK. A premise behind this possibility is the fact that the Dutch agrees with certain aspects of the UK’s demands from the EU such as ‘Better regulation’ (2). Besides, the UK is viewed as a credible partner for the part of the Netherlands. As the first Council Presidency following COP21, it is expected that the environment policy that underscores the importance of the sustainable economy would loom prominent within the overall policy realms. To that end, under the Dutch presidency it is aimed at translating specific practices into legally binding rules in this policy realm.

 

While the problems the EU encounters are huge both in terms of scale and depth, the key to overcoming these is highly related to the unity of the EU as a whole. This leads the member states to concentrate on shared responsibility and enhanced cooperation on a more Europe- wide level. In the overall context, a combination of diverse factors such as being one of the founders of the EU and having successful experience in smoothly running the previous presidencies lead to portray the Dutch Presidency as well grounded. Seen in this light, the Netherlands might exercise its leverage more effectively in order to put forward salient issues such as migration.

 

Turkey and the Dutch Presidency

 

As regards Turkey’s accession talks, under the previous Luxembourg Presidency, Chapter 17 of the acquis communautaire, namely economic and monetary policy was decided to open. Throughout the Luxembourg’s term, the number of initiatives to Turkey has been increased to participate in EU’s informal meetings. In that sense, the first Turkey-EU Summit was held on 29 November 2015. On the other hand, the talks on the ‘visa liberalisation’ process proceeded as dialogues.

 

Given the accession negotiations with Turkey were initiated in 2004 under the Dutch Presidency, Turkish side exhibits more positive attitude towards the smooth progress of accession talks. To that end, during the presidency of the Netherlands, Turkey aims at addressing the opening of particularly two chapters, which are Chapter 23 on judiciary and fundamental rights and Chapter 24 on justice, freedom, and security. At the same time, Turkey and the EU will start to carry out works related to the recently opened seventeenth chapter. In addition to this, the EU Commission’s second report on ‘visa liberation’ will be published at the end of March that falls in the Dutch Presidency’s term. Last but not least, the problem of Cyprus sits at the center of the accession negotiation table between Turkey and the EU since 2004. As an ‘honest broker’, the Dutch Presidency assumes a relatively tough task in its tete-a-tete with Turkey and 28 member states.

 

 

 

Endnote

 

(1) Cecile Barbiere, Dutch EU Presidency Under Pressure over Migration, 05 January 2016, Retrieved: 06 January 2016, http://www.euractiv.com/sections/eu-priorities-2020/dutch-eu-presidency-under-pressure-over-migration-320683

(2)FTI Consulting, September 2015, Retrieved: 08 January 2016,  http://www.fticonsulting.com/~/media/Files/emea--files/insights/articles/dutch-presidency.pdf

 

 

 

 

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