Bulgaria has just finished a successful first EU presidency of the Council and now it is Austria’s turn to take over the task. I wish to thank the Bulgarian Presidency, the political party GERB and Prime Minister Boyko Borissov for their hard work, devotion and close collaboration, facilitated by Minister Lilyana Pavlova, on a number of important topics during the past six months.

For Europe’s cities and regions, the most significant milestone during Bulgaria’s presidency was the European Commission’s proposal for the EU’s new multiannual budget and the related proposals on how the money will be spent after 2020. Our cooperation started already in December at our EPP CoR high-level event, when we discussed EU finances from a local and regional perspective with Deputy Prime-Minister Tomislav Donchev and EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger.

Following the Commission’s proposal, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) appointed its rapporteur on the MFF, Nikola Dobroslavic (EPP, HR). The CoR’s COTER Commission meeting in Sofia in June offered a great opportunity to have first discussions on the MFF proposals. We hope that the Austrian presidency will be able to make good progress on this crucial topic during the second half of this year.

The EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia in May was a major achievement of the Bulgarian presidency, and also a topic of importance to Europe’s regions. Regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations between the countries of the Western Balkans are key prerequisites for European progress and new economic opportunities, and strengthening local and public administrations is necessary, the CoR has underlined in its recent opinion, led by Franz Schausberger (EPP, AT). Strengthening the stability in Europe’s neighbourhood is also one of the priorities of the Austrian presidency.

Finally, for the EPP Group in the CoR, a highlight of the presidency was the launch of the EPP Grassroots Engagement in view of the 2019 European Elections, which gathered over 750 participants in Sofia on 9 March.  The launch event was followed by our first EPP Local Dialogue, in which local young people took part to discuss the future of Europe. On behalf of our Group, I want to thank Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Vice-Chairman of GERB, Yordanka Fandakova, Mayor of Sofia, and the Bulgarian members of EPP CoR for making these events so successful.

Under the motto “Europe starts in your village/city/region“, the aim of our Grassroots engagement is to bring Europe closer to its citizens and to make sure that the expectations of the people living in our cities and regions are taken on board in the next mandate of the EU institutions.

Also Austria’s efforts during the next six months will be aimed at strengthening the European Union, helping it to get closer to its citizens and re-establishing citizens’ trust in the EU. With this clear focus, we look forward to continuing our work with the Austrian presidency.

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