Since 1 January 2016, the Netherlands holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. For six months, the Netherlands will have a leading role in consulting and cooperating with – and mediating and compromising between - the member states of the European Union.
The seven topics the Dutch Presidency has chosen to focus on contain many urgent and current matters. The keywords “safe and free”, put first on the list in the Presidency’s promotional video, show the need for a stable and wise leadership during the coming six months. The single market, migration and asylum policy, climate and energy policy, the Eurozone and an innovative and connecting union are the other six topics.
The most urgent issue the Presidency will have to focus on is the migration and asylum policy. The challenging refugee situation is far from over. Many facets of the issue require common policies for member states of the European Union, but it has become apparent that this is not that easy. Therefore, the Dutch Presidency has scheduled the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council to meet every month instead of the usual three months. Member countries such as Germany are pushing for a well-functioning border protection and refugee location scheme by spring and the European Commission will come up with a new proposal in March to make the Dublin regulations more universal among member states. The matter remains urgent and ECPM expects the Dutch Presidency to be diligent in this.
With this new Presidency of the Council of the European Union, a new Trio Presidency has started. The Netherlands is partnered up with Slovak and Malta for its Trio Presidency. In its programme, the second priority area is “a Union that empowers and protects all its citizens”. The document states that this priority area includes a “Directive on implementing the principle of Equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation”. However much ECPM supports equal treatment between persons, this Equal Treatment Directive worries us. It will restrict entrepreneurial freedom, will bring along an extra regulatory burden and extra judicial costs and it might lead to a sue culture. When it comes to a court case the burden of proof is placed with the employer: when accused of discrimination, the respondent should prove that there was no breach of the prohibition of discrimination. This reversal of the usual course of affairs worries us and we are urging the Dutch Presidency to be on alert for this.
Another urgent matter on the agenda is combatting terrorism. Europe has seen an increasing amount of terror threats in the last months and many citizens and politicians are calling for new European anti-terrorism regulations. In January, the European Parliament will vote on using Passenger Name Records (PNR) data for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime. Also on the European Parliament’s agenda is harmonizing and complicating weapon ownership and sale within the European Union to protect the European citizens. Although such restrictions are not the only solution in solving conflicts and terrorism, they are certainly part of making Europe an even better and safer place.
Many other urgent issues lay ahead and the Dutch Presidency is up for a serious challenge. ECPM sincerely hopes that the Netherlands will fulfill its Presidency with wisdom and leadership – based on realism and mutual understanding - on all issues that will rise during the coming six months.