by Mathias Juust
Intern, International Public Affairs
What is the Council of the European Union?
The Council, consisting of EU member state ministers, represents one of the bloc’s main decision-making bodies. The presidency rotates between member countries every six months, during which the presidency holder chairs Council meetings and holds some authority over determining their agenda.
Who are the key players?
On July 1, Estonia took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union. As the new leader, Estonia promises to devote more attention to issues like digitalization and market integration within EU policy discussions.
Three successive presidency holders form a “presidency trio” and propose a common strategic agenda for their 18-month “reign.” Estonia, Bulgaria and Austria constitute the next trio, and recently presented their program to define the Council’s policy priorities through the end of 2018.
What is on the Council’s public policy agenda?
In addition to security issues, the trio’s agenda highlights several topics related to the EU business climate:
- Enhancing the European Single Market: The EU recently removed country-specific roaming charges, which means that Europeans traveling to another member state will not incur extra fees for mobile services. The trio’s program aims to further remove similar internal barriers, with special emphasis on cross-border e-commerce and digital public services, as well as accelerating the cross-border and cross-sector use of electronic identification (e-ID). e-ID can be used as an instrument for online personal authentication that facilitates international business transactions.
- Entrepreneurship, job creation and growth: Youth and long-term unemployment represents a substantial problem for Europe. EU agenda items focus on boosting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), creation of start-ups and R&D investment. Other key objectives include developing human capital, as well as building up the cross-border digital, transport and energy infrastructure.
- Environment and energy union: The plan reaffirms EU’s official position on adhering to the principles of the Paris Agreement and reducing greenhouse emissions. “Green growth” is seen as an instrument for creating jobs and increasing Europe’s competitiveness. Integration of the union’s energy market is a key goal that will not only serve environmental targets, but could also guarantee energy security.
- Economic policy integration: The trio aims to establish a more meaningful debate on closer economic integration between EU member states. The most tangible goals for integration include advanced harmonization of bank regulation and accommodation of capital flows.
- Global cooperation: The agenda emphasizes the importance of the transatlantic relationship, in which the USA remains “an essential partner in almost all aspects of EU external action,” including economy and trade. Implementation of the recently signed free trade agreement with Canada (CETA) and successful conclusion of trade talks with Japan also receive special mentions. On a broader scale, the program endorses commitment to further international trade liberalization, both in the framework of WTO and through bilateral negotiations.
What are the implications?
The Council’s agenda advocates for economic openness, which could be an advantage for enterprises trying to expand into the EU. Historically, member state-specific rules have represented a significant barrier for simultaneously conducting business in several European markets. The trio’s agenda could mitigate this problem through harmonization of national regulations and the adoption of common digital governance solutions.
The importance of digital harmonization is seen in Estonia, where filing taxes, signing legally-binding documents and registering a business can be done online in just minutes. In 2014, Estonia became the first country to offer e-residency, which enables the establishment and operating of an EU based company from anywhere in the world. Estonia is also the world’s only country where citizens vote through online balloting. Currently, this small EU member state ranks 6th in the global Index of Economic Freedom by The Heritage Foundation and 12th in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index. You can learn more about the building blocks of e-Estonia here.