The Netherlands will preside over the Council of the EU until July, followed by Slovakia and Malta. This 18-month timetable puts great pressure on the Dutch to deal with the refugee crisis. EURACTIV France reports.
The rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union fell to the Netherlands on 1 January. For half a year, the country will have to tackle the various challenges that have weakened the EU over recent months.
And there is no lack of challenges, from the migration crisis to Brexit to the fight against terrorism.
In a programme drafted with Slovakia and Malta, which will take the next two presidencies from July 2016, the Netherlands focused on a number of priorities dictated more by current affairs than Dutch politics. The risk that Slovakia and Malta’s deep interest in the migrant crisis may colour their response to the question has forced the Netherlands to concentrate on it.
“The sheer number of crises means the rotating presidencies are systematically obliged to deal with current affairs,” said Charles de Marcilly, of the Robert Schumann Foundation.
Protecting the borders
As a result, the migration crisis occupies pride of place on the Dutch programme, which aims to improve “the future development of the Common European Asylum System”.
The question of the Schengen area is also mentioned; the Dutch presidency hopes not only to improve the efficiency of the border-free zone, but more surprisingly, to enlarge it.
But back in November, the Netherlands had defended a plan to shrink the Schengen area to a few core countries, to help re-stabilise the zone and address its shortcomings.
Mini Schengen versus enlargement
A founding member of the Schengen area, along with France, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium, the Netherlands had proposed to tackle the migration crisis by returning to a similar configuration, but with some different partners.
Sweden and Austria would be invited to join this new “Mini Schengen”, while France would be excluded. But the idea that a smaller group of partners could better control the borders was not well received by other European countries.
And the contradictions do not stop there. The 18-month programme also contains plans to continue the EU’s refugee relocation programme, an issue on which Slovakia has fought the EU every step of the way.
Opposed to any form of relocation, the country went so far as to lodge an official complaint with the Court of Justice of the European Union over the EU’s plans to distribute 120,000 asylum seekers among member states.
But the coming presidencies will have very little leverage on this issue. “The rotating presidencies will be hemmed in on the question of the migration crisis and the refugees,” said de Marcilly. “They will be forced to make progress.”
The Netherlands could be the only one of the next three presidencies with any ability to bring political impetus to the question, according to de Marcilly. “Slovakia is in a strange position on this dossier, and Malta is one of the ‘small’ countries,” he said.
“The Dutch presidency may be the last that can push forward the big issues. The next presidencies risk being dragged more into management.”