Currently, the European Union is facing both structural and contextual challenges. On the structural side, there is an ample need and to reform and bring the European project to a new dimension. Striking the right balance between subsidiarity and a greater role for the European Union on the world stage would be a difficult enough task without the current divergence of opinion between and within member states.

On the contextual side, there are imminent issues on the leaders’ agenda including the unprecedented Brexit, problems related to migration, security and cyberdefense, and last but not least the construction of a MFF that wants to enhance the European Added Value without imposing additional burdens on member states. The upcoming European elections make consensus even harder to reach.

This paper has tried to map 3 dimensions of the current context in which Romania will assume the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Firstly, it has provided a canvas of the political, economic, social and technological environment of the European Union. As it is first and foremost a common market, it is useful to have such a market diagnostic of the EU at present time. Complex issues necessitate innovative solutions, and we provide an inventory of potential remedies to current issues in this first section of the paper.

Secondly, it looks at the challenges and opportunities that the EU is facing in general, and Romania in particular. As mentioned before, we find that the EU to be challenged by Brexit, cybersecurity, fake news, diverging visions at national level and between institutional actors, the turmoil related to the upcoming European elections, climate change, energy dependency and terrorism. With respect to opportunities, the EU can look ahead to completing its digital market, furthering the EMU, new trade negotiations that consolidate its multilateral approach, developing projects with specific European added value, and developing a new partnership with Africa and its immediate peripheries.

For the specific case of Romania, national constraints are likely to inform the agenda the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU. Romania’s main challenges arise from development factors (e.g. poor infrastructure and healthcare system, early school leaving, brain drain), as well as political instability (e.g. conflict between the Presidency and the Parliament, numerous changes in the Government including the designated portfolios for the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU). Its opportunities are linked to the way Romania will manage major EU landmark negotiations in the near future (i.e. rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, or the negotiations for the future MFF).

The final section of this paper covers the topical priorities Romania might hold across the various Council Configurations. While there are topics that are of primary interest to it, such as the cohesion or agricultural policy, other major themes will be very important as well for strategic reasons and their relevance to major partners in the EU. The latter category includes the General Affairs Council recurring topics, such as Brexit and the future MFF. Another interesting set of topical issues are those regarding migration, security and cyberthreats, as these are not in particular challenging for Romania, but very important politically for member states such as France or Germany. Moving forward as an honest broker with the targeted policies in these sensitive sectors would bring political capital to Romania. However, Romania’s performance in this role will be severely constrained by the calendar and the little time left for negotiations before the European elections.