What to expect during the Austrian Presidency and for the remainder of the current legislature?

The end of 2018 and 2019 will be synonymous with the end of the existing mandate of the European institutions and the beginning of a new era for the European Union (EU).  This article highlights what we can expect during this period and notably during the Austrian Presidency which will witness the start of this transformational period.

Digital still on top of the European agenda

On the 1st of July, Austria will take over the presidency of the Council of the EU for a period of six months. This Presidency will be driven by the motto “A Europe that protects”. It will focus on three areas: 

  • 1. Security and migration
  • 2. Securing prosperity and competitiveness through digitalisation
  • 3. Stability in the neighbourhood – EU perspective of the Western Balkans/South Eastern Europe

Digital remains a priority on the European Agenda. Ahead of the Austrian Presidency, the Bulgarian Presidency is still assuming this role until the end of June. During the past six months, the most significant achievement of the Bulgarian Presidency has been the political agreement on the European Electronic Communications Code which updates the EU’s telecoms rules. They also reached an agreement on the revision of the EU audiovisual media rules (AVMS Directive) and it is expected that there potentially be a political agreement on the Free Flow of non-personal data before the end of June.

Since the European Commission unveiled its Digital Single Market Strategy in 2015, only 12 out of 29 legislative initiatives presented have been adopted to date. Austria is committed to reaching a common position of the European Council on the revision of the Public Information Sector (PSI) directive allowing for a negotiation with the European Parliament. They will also try to push towards political agreement on the proposed Platforms to Business Regulation, on the Copyright Directive and on the Cybersecurity Regulation. With regards to the Regulation on ePrivacy, no common approach has been reached at this stage. The Austrian Presidency hopes to be able to move discussions forward but does not seem to foresee an agreement to be reached before the end of its presidency. 

Undoubtedly Austria will also be required to prioritise other challenging issues such as trade policy, the migration policy or the negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027.

With the European elections on the horizon in May 2019, there will be a lot of pressure on the Austrian Presidency to finalise the outstanding legislative proposals on the table.

2019 and beyond

Following the Austrian Presidency and looking forward into 2019, Romania will take over from the Austrians. Beyond the European Parliament elections themselves, and the nomination of the new College of Commissioners, there is another institutional change being made in Europe as a result of Brexit. 

Concretely, Brexit will entail a reduction in the number of MEPs. The composition of the European Parliament will change: downsizing from 751 to 705 members with 46 seats put in the reserve for the potential arrival of new Member States, and the redistribution of 27 remaining seats amongst under-represented Member States (+5 seats for France and Spain; +1 seat for Poland, Romania and Slovakia).