French, UK Ambassadors Share Know-How on Council of EU Chairmanship
His Excellency Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes, French Ambassador to Bulgaria, and Sarah Riley, Deputy Ambassador of the UK to Bulgaria participated in a conference dedicated to Bulgaria's first-ever chairmanship of the Council of the EU in 2018.
The conference, which was organized by the Bulgarian NGO blEUprint, discussed the “Challenges and Opportunities in front of the Bulgarian Chairmanship of the Council of the EU 2018”. It was held on November 13 in Sofia.
Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes held the opening speech of the conference, in which he presented the vast experience of France, as his country has held the rotating presidency a total of 12 times so far.
Although he was never personally involved in the organization of any of the chairmanships, the French Ambassador provided useful advice, focusing on France's most recent presidency in 2008.
The French diplomat pointed out that the 2018 Bulgarian chairmanship will be coinciding with the end of the 5-year term of the incumbent European Parliament, a situation similar to France's 2008 presidency, which is usually a period of intense legislative process.
Although the Council of the EU has held limited powers since the entry into power of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, it still retained one important function, namely that of coordinating the different Council of Ministers configurations.
This gives the country holding the rotating presidency an important role, as it sets the agenda, organises, coordinates, and chairs all meetings at Minister, COREPER and working group level.
The French Ambassador said that this will present Bulgaria with a unique opportunity as it will put the country in the spotlight, making it more popular and visible to foreign diplomats and visitors.
Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes stated that this would enhance Bulgaria's internal communication and raise citizens' awareness on the EU.
This will also improve Bulgaria's communication with the other member states and will be an opportunity for Bulgaria to move forward its European priorities.
The chairmanship could also provide an opportunity for the country to test its response capacity to crises. Here the French Ambassador gave as an example the Russia-Georgia war that occurred at the time of the 2008 French presidency, and the active role played by the then President Sarkozy in negotiating a ceasefire.
The French diplomat said that it is never too early to start preparing for the chairmanship, and generally it should be started two years prior to the presidency at the latest.
The French Ambassador emphasised the need for ensuring good material and logistical preparation as well as the training of competent officials. He called politicians to treat the administration with due respect.
Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes used the opportunity to congratulate the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has already started to work on the issue, but advised that only one institution and one minister should be responsible for the chairmanship, as was the case in France.
His Excellency expressed the concern that in the new Bulgarian government too many institutions and ministers were responsible for EU matters, counting a total four of them. Apart from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he pointed to the presence of three Deputy Prime Ministers with somewhat similar portfolios - on EU policies, on absorption of EU funds, and state administration.
The Ambassador concluded that France is always willing to lend its help to Bulgaria in order for the country to prepare and organise a successful chairmanship.
Britain's Deputy Ambassador Sarah Riley participated in the first panel of the conference, sharing her personal experience in the preparation of two UK chairmanships (1998, 2005) and her involvement in the 2017 one.
Riley reminded that the UK and Bulgaria will be together in the Troika, the arrangement under which the incumbent, preceding and succeeding countries holding the presidency cooperate for a period of 18 months, along with Estonia.
The Deputy Ambassador called for an active cooperation between the three countries, as all of them will be new to the presidency. While Bulgaria and Estonia will be complete newcomers, it will also be the first time for the UK to chair the Council of the EU since the entry of the Lisbon Treaty.
Riley concluded that for a chairmanship to be successful it should be realistic and not give promises that can not be fulfilled.
The Council of the European Union is the main-decision maker in the legislative process of the EU, along with the European Parliament. Its Presidency rotates between all member states every 6 months. Bulgaria will be chairing the Presidency in the second half of 2018 (July-December).
The organisers from blEUprint promised that this was not to be a one-off event, but rather the first of many which will ensure that Bulgarian citizens are informed and prepared for the coming challenge.
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