Austria assumes the Presidency of the Council of the EU for the third time from 1 July until 31 December 2018. Under the slogan ‘A Europe that protects’, the Austrian Presidency will focus on security and the fight against illegal migration, securing prosperity and competitiveness through digitalisation, and stability in the European neighbourhood. According to the Presidency, the European Union should focus on big issues which require a joint solution and take a step back when it comes to smaller issues where member states or regions are in a better position to take decisions. Read more in the interview with Gernot Blümel, Federal Minister within the Federal Chancellery for the EU, Arts, Culture and Media, below:

1. The Austrian Presidency has chosen to focus on security and the fight against illegal migration, securing prosperity and competitiveness through digitalisation, and stability in the European neighbourhood as its main priorities. How will you be engaging with local and regional authorities to achieve your objectives?

Our presidency comes at an important moment for the European Union. The migration crisis and the Brexit referendum have kicked off a discussion about the future of the EU where concrete steps will have to be decided soon. During our Presidency we also want to contribute to that discussion. In our view, the European Union will become stronger by strengthening the subsidiarity principle; that means that the EU should provide solutions on big issues such as the protection of external EU Borders, security and trade. At the same time other issues should be left to be regulated on national, regional and local level. A close exchange with local and regional authorities is therefore crucial to achieve that objective.

2. Which level of government – European, national or local – do you believe is best placed to deal with the other policies reflected in your portfolio, that is to say arts, culture and media, and why?

The treaty is clear: arts, culture and media are all issues where the European Union has a coordinating role. The competence stays with the Member States. All areas are nevertheless also very important on the European level: arts and culture –areas where Austria is very active and proud of its past and contemporary achievements – should be discussed and presented to all other Member States. It should inspire but also strengthen the principle “united in diversity”. On media, on the other hand, European outlets are in competition with international players. We clearly need European solutions when it comes to the future of broadcasting and safeguarding contents of European identity. For that purpose I hosted a media symposium in Vienna, which was a starting point of a genuine media policy discourse in Austria. To continue this discourse, the next high level media policy conference will take place at EU level with the title “Challenging the Content” on the 8th & 9th October in Vienna. I am very happy, that Commissioner Gabriel will be part of it.

3. Subsidiarity has been identified as a key priority for the future of Europe. What is your position on the role of local and regional authorities in EU decision making and implementation? How do you plan to incorporate the report from the Task Force on Subsidiarity and Proportionality in your work?

As already said we want to strengthen the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is seen as a general – horizontal approach, in order to create more proximity to citizens and restore confidence in the EU. It must therefore be at the center of our debate on the future of Europe! We welcome that the Task Force on Subsidiarity and Proportionality was set up and we look forward to the presentation of its findings in July. It will be important to see concrete results and strengthen the subsidiarity principle as soon as possible. To that end we will also host a conference on Subsidiarity in November. This conference will be co-hosted by the government of Vorarlberg, since we believe that regional and local authorities play a key role in the implementation of this principle.

4. The Austrian Presidency slogan “A Europe that protects” sends a clear message to EU citizens one year ahead of the European Parliament elections: what other steps will you be taking during the Presidency to raise awareness of the elections and ensure voter turnout? What lessons do you think can be drawn from the successful 2017 legislative elections in Austria?

The low voter turnout is a result of low approval ratings. If we manage to strengthen the European Union, especially by providing answers to the big issues, approval ratings will go up again. The Presidency also provides a good opportunity for a discussion with the citizens on how to improve the EU. If citizens feel that the EU is close to them and close to their wishes and needs, they will also go out and vote in the elections. I believe that that was also the reason for our successful national elections in Austria. Sebastian Kurz showed that he understood what the problems were and was able to credibly provide the right solutions.

5. The EPP Group in the CoR has launched a grassroots movement in view of the 2019 European Elections. What are your thoughts on this engagement and would you encourage Austrian politicians to organise local dialogues in their constituencies?

Austria’s culture of subsidiarity is strongly rooted on the national, regional and local levels, in communities and civil society. We therefore welcome all European initiatives that encourage local responsibility and commitment, and thus also help making Europe bigger on big things while reducing over-regulation and bureaucratic burden. Austria’s EU Presidency will strongly focus on the added value of the subsidiarity principle for shaping a Europe that protects and delivers. The grassroots engagement launched by the EPP Group in the CoR will certainly contribute to that, and we look forward to its high level Summit that will take place in the leading region of Lower Austria later this year with a broad involvement of local, regional, national and European stakeholders.

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