Coming between the Estonian and Austrian Presidencies, it’s the first time ever that Bulgaria, not yet a member of the Eurozone or the Schengen free movement area, is at the helm: a remarkable opportunity for Sofia to mark its 10 years of EU membership.
Officially inaugurated on a smoggy day, the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU doesn’t have an easy task with the future of Europe process, considered by the Bulgarian government among its four priorities for the Presidency. The dossiers that potentially affect the Future of Europe for this semester are not a few nor irrelevant.
United we stay strong is the ambitious and positive chosen motto for this Presidency. However, strength and unity may be hard to find. Amongst other tasks, the Bulgarians will need to navigate the choppy waters of Brexit negotiations and coordinate the negotiations over what agreed on the leaders’ agenda in October 2017. These include Commission proposals for EU finances beyond 2020, the potential creation of an EU Minister of Finance, and the organisation of EU summits on migration, trade, defence, and investment screening. Bulgaria will also aim to launch discussions on a future EU long-term industrial strategy, likely to increase its relevance for the next EU legislature’s policy mandate. All in all, Sofia has to prove itself solid enough in the EU dynamics as to rally the other institutions to reach a deal on the most sensitive dossiers before the 2019 EU election.
The future of Europe and young people, with a focus on economic growth and social cohesion, are among the concrete policy priorities that the incoming Presidency will focus on. Bulgaria aims especially at fostering social innovation, supporting youth, improving the quality of education, and promoting the widespread use of information and communication technologies (ICT). In addition, following the recent endorsement of the European Pillar of Social Rights, Sofia will be tasked with mainstreaming its 20 principles across all EU policy initiatives. Overall, a set of priorities as heated as needed as not to let the future of Europe process and the Social Pillar go off the rails towards the EU elections. As the Multiannual Financial Framework enters its momentum, the Bulgarian Presidency holds as many opportunities as risks to deliver substantial messages, able to affect the undergoing debates.
On the purely political level, there’s a number of fronts that Sofia has to cautiously float on. On top of it, the just-reached agreement between CDU-CSU and SPD to form a coalition government – funded on the reform of the Eurozone and more broadly the German impact on the future of Europe; Macron’s pending and still thunderous proposals to reform the EU; the vibrant debate on the Eastern front of the EU; and last but not least, the lack of political stand on the future of Europe by Italy, if the upcoming general elections won’t deliver a clear political address for the next government, as it may happen.
The Eastern front will probably represent the real leadership test for the Bulgaria Presidency. While Sofia has clearly expressed the which to further deepen the European integration, and a Eurobarometer poll last April reported 50% of Bulgarians being in favor of adopting the European currency, the Visegrad countries, especially Poland and Hungary, are promoting a skeptical approach.
The challenges that lie ahead this semester are remarkable: designing the future of Europe needs experienced actors, yet it’s possibly freshness that we need as helmsmen at the moment to enhance a debate able to deliver, and not only discuss, a renewed vision for the European Union on the doorstep of the next EU mandat
 The Bulgarian Presidency was officially inaugurated on the 11th of January, and due to the air pollution – one of the biggest problems of Sofia – guests were asked to wear masks. For more information see Krassen Nikolov, Guests to Bulgarian Presidency inauguration advised to wear breathing masks, www.euractiv.com, 11.01.2018.
 See European Commission, Eurobarometer: Majorities on four of the newer EU Member States are in favour of introducing the euro, https://ec.europa.eu/info/news/eurobarometer-majorities-four-newer-eu-member-states-are-favour-introducing-euro-2017-may-12_en, 12.05.2017.