The UK takes over the rotating presidency of the Council
of the European Union on 1 July for six months, and is set to take on some
of Europe's most difficult political issues as priorities.

Tony Blair pledged
on Thursday to consult the European Parliament during his presidency, and
told MEPs his six-month term in the EU presidency would confront Europe’s
toughest issues.

The Council of the EU brings together ministers from member
states' governments. One of its main tasks is to approve or reject, together
with the European Parliament, laws put forward by the Commission. Each
country in turn holds the presidency for six months.

The role of the presidency
is
to organise the work of the Council and the dozens of committees that
prepare the ground for agreements to be made when the minister meet. Where
there are
disagreements, it is the presidency's job to search for compromise.
The presidency also organises and chairs two summits, known as European Councils,
where heads
of state and government set general political guidelines for the EU's
development. These will fall in October and December.

The task of securing
agreement
on a
framework budget for 2007-2013 falls to Britain after the failure
of the Brussels summit on 16 and 17 June.

The UK also has to deal with the
continuing
fallout
from the rejection of the EU constitution by voters in France and
the Netherlands.

In Brussels, the EU called for a period of dialogue and
debate - and the kind
of debate the UK has in mind is one that focuses on the EU's
response to the challenges of globalisation.

It will be arguing that the priority
is to make
the EU's economy more competitive, by cutting red tape and liberalising
the economy, while at the same time preserving European social values.

Britain
also wants to ensure that negotiations with Turkey on its possible
accession to the EU begin as planned on 3 October.

Other major themes
of
its presidency
will be climate change, African development, and world trade
negotiations.

A deal on the budget is highly unlikely, though Tony Blair has
said he will
try hard to get one. The problems include the bitterness of
the rows in Brussels, which have left a legacy of bad blood, and the difficulty
for the UK in playing
the role of honest broker when its own budget rebate is one
of
the
main sticking points.

The UK may also find it difficult to score dramatic
successes on the
economic liberalisation front.

It is more likely that there
will be steady
progress with on-going EU projects to liberalise financial
services, to improve regulation or to simplify cross-border mergers.

Another
difficulty
for the
UK is that opposition to Turkish membership of the EU has
increased since the referendums in France and the Netherlands. Some argue
that these votes
were,
in part, votes against EU enlargement, while others say
that further enlargement is impossible without the streamlined decision-making
procedures
the new constitution
would have ushered in.

Tony Blair's five priorities:

  • Debate on the
    future of Europe following referendum rejections in France
    and the Netherlands
  • Finding
    a way forward on EU financing for 2007 to 2013 after the
    UK - and Blair's own actions - have been blamed for the collapse of a Brussels
    summit
  • EU
    enlargement and controversial entry talks for Turkey and
    Croatia
  • Brokering
    a deal to save the EU's Services Directive - key liberalisation
    legislation but deeply unpopular in France and blamed in Paris for May's
    referendum setback
  • Overseeing
    a review of EU employment rights and European Parliament
    calls for an end to the UK's exemption from rules on
    working time

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