The deputy minister delegated by the incoming Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU (first six months of 2018) for relations with the European Parliament, Monika Panayotova, made clear on 24 November the importance of its presidency for the Western Balkans.
Bulgaria will put an emphasis on energy, transport, education and digital connectivity in the Western Balkans. The minister called, for example, for lower roaming charges and the development of Wi-fi everywhere.
She also spoke of the other priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency. Bulgaria wants a focus on young people and to work on developing the skills necessary for the jobs of the future and creating European values through education. The mid-term review of the Erasmus + programme will also take place during the Bulgarian presidency.
The Presidency intends to make progress on economic growth and social cohesion, notably by strengthening Economic and Monetary Union. Bulgaria is hoping to be invited to join the eurozone at the end of 2018. In the first quarter of 2018, discussions on the multiannual financial framework are due to begin, with the debate focusing, in particular, on cohesion policy and opportunities to modernise and simplify the common agricultural policy where 70% of Europe is rural.
The security and stability of Europe is another priority for the incoming Presidency. Its work on security will cover permanent structured cooperation, asylum policy, with the strengthening of the European asylum system, and implementation of the revised internal security strategy. The Presidency also wants to work on clean energy.
Following on from the Estonian Presidency, Bulgaria, which supports free movement of data and ideas, will continue to work on the digital economy and cyber-security.
According to Panayotova, it will be important that the EU does not lose sight of three key principles: consensus, competitiveness and cohesion.
In the area of health, under the Future of Work in a Fairer Europe (Europe of Competitiveness section), the programme pays attention to the “Protecting health and improving the health performance of EU citizens by providing access to effective and innovative medicines at an affordable price and stimulating healthy eating amongst children; promoting physical activity; ensuring healthier and safer working condition”.
Access to effective and innovative medicines at an affordable price has been on the political agenda in Brussels for a long time and it perfectly makes sense for a country like Bulgaria to pay attention to it, as their financial resources, in comparison with western EU countries, are smaller. In a time where Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Austria are looking for further medicines cooperation, it is fit that the topic is on the Bulgarian radar. In fact, Bulgaria and Romania have already signed in 2016 an agreement on negotiating expensive medicines discounts. Other central European countries with similar purchasing power have also considered joining in.
The Draft Program of the Republic of Bulgaria for the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, available here.