The rotating presidencies of the EU Council are a key mechanism in the European Union’s decision-making process through which the European integration is put into effect. The EU countries invest a lot of effort and resources in their preparation and realization, and therefore deserve well-justified assessments, not simply overview reports or highly politicized materials and opinions mainly influenced by the political affiliation of their authors. While it is widely recognized that the understanding of the performance of the rotating presidencies is an important prerequisite for the improvement of the integration process, so far there has been no analytical instrument which could provide an expert, supranational and non-partisan evaluation of each presidency. Therefore, highly politicized and diametrically opposed assessments of the rotating presidencies are predominant, which, in addition to being unreliable, also have the potential to erode the meaning of the institution. A common drawback of all the methods used so far is that they are unable to pinpoint the complexity of the processes leading to a certain result exactly during the respective presidency. Occasionally a predecessor presidency may have a greater merit in the negotiation of a legislative act, while its final adoption is only a matter of time. The lack of a reliable methodology for the assessment of rotating presidencies often leads to diverse and unjustified interpretations.

The team that participates in the Jean Monnet Center of Excellence at the Department of European Studies at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” – Prof. I. Shikova, Prof. G. Dimitrov, Assoc. Prof. M. Veleva, Assoc. Prof. K. Haralampiev, Dr. Linka Toneva, Dr. B. Mavrov, along with a team of 11 students of European Studies and Sociology at the Faculty of Philosophy at Sofia University – Alesandriya Angelova, Antoniya Velikova, Aglaya Lenkova, Viktoriya Ivanova, Dimana Petkova, Desislava Dinkova, Iva Yotsova, Ralena Gerasimova, Sandrina Georgieva, Simeon Stoyanov – coordinated by Denitsa Tsankova, has set the ambitious task of creating a conceptually, methodologically and procedurally sound original instrument through which quantifiable, factually verifiable arguments can provide highly objective assessment of the rotating presidency’s accomplishments. The primary challenge in the realization of this unprecedented task is to combine:

  • the complex, multi-layered and dynamic nature of the presidency
  • with a universal methodological instrument,
  • which allows its relatively easy application to all rotating presidencies, yet
  • it is also sufficiently reliable through a comprehensive number of system indicators.

Following the result-oriented nine-month work of the project team, the specific methodology and relevant tool-box were developed, comprehensive empirical information was collected on all the dossiers and initiatives that the Bulgarian presidency had been working on. To reach this goal, a set of systematically formulated and internally synchronized tasks were performed, including but not limited to methodical analysis of the precursory research tradition, conceptual modeling (specific quantifiable indicators about the work of the presidency were selected – for example, progress in legislative dossiers, initiation of political processes, overcoming resistance, building consensus and encouraging compromises), creating a logistic system for institutional support, creating a comprehensive model for integrating diversified empirical information and data registration instruments, compiling a sample model of the general population of research units, creating a mathematical model of the quantitative index, training, coordinating and consulting a team of 11 highly specialized associates, collecting, processing, content audit and analytical verification of coding on the empirical information on the 212 mandatory legislative dossiers which the Bulgarian rotating presidency was working on, 112 non-legislative dossiers, as well as on 29 political initiatives. This integral information array was subjected to multiple tests for mathematical analysis in addition to subsequent mathematical modeling of the integral quantitative index.

A key prerequisite for the research outcome was the provision of reliable sources of information. Along with the primary documentary sources – a program and a report of the Bulgarian government, official documents of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council, the information obtained from the interviews with the experts from the working groups was also classified. The expert interviews were useful not only as a source of additional and difficult-to-access information, but also as a means of monitoring and verifying the results of the documentary analysis.

By solving the presented series of complex tasks, the initial and main objective of the study was accomplished – realization of the most objective and well-justified assessment of the rotating presidency carried out by Bulgaria in the first half-year of 2018. The numerical result from the application of the integrated index is 60.2 against a scale from 0 to 100, however, it is important to note that virtually no (or any) rotating presidency is likely to achieve a higher index of 70 – 75. In this regard, the outcome of the work of the Bulgarian presidency can be explicitly and reasonably defined as a high score.

After this intensive work, the project team has good reason to disclose the following results:

  1. An original science-based methodology for assessing rotating presidencies and a specific instrument for its implementation has been developed. The methodology and tool-box are universal and can be applied to all rotating presidencies.
  2. The developed methodology has been applied in practice to the data about the process of work and the results of the rotating presidency, carried out by Bulgaria (January-June 2018). The given index for the presidency’s evaluation provides a reasoned, highly objective and scientifically justified way of saying that the Bulgarian presidency has performed very well in all three areas of contribution – the work on legislative and non-legislative dossiers as well as political initiatives.

A detailed presentation of the methodology, the tool-box and the specific results in addition to their interpretation in a separate publication lies ahead.

This exceptional success of the research team would not have been possible without the well-intentioned and explicit institutional support we received from the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, Mr. Tomislav Donchev, from Ms. Petya Vassileva, Head of the Directorate on European Affairs at the Council of Ministers, and by the majority of working group leaders. Thank you for your cooperation!