(AFP) – Estonia is set to take over the rotating EU presidency from Britain in late 2017 after London pulled out to focus on negotiations to leave the bloc, officials said Wednesday.
In the first major step towards Brexit after last month’s shock referendum result, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that Britain would no longer take up its scheduled six-month stint next July.
A spokesman for European Council President Donald Tusk said there was “broad agreement” when EU ambassadors met in Brussels “that Estonia’s presidency be brought forward by six months to take the place of the UK”.
He told AFP that “subsequent presidencies, in the order they are currently foreseen, would all in turn be brought forward by six months”, meaning that Bulgaria will now take over in January 2018.
“It is hoped that this result will be confirmed through a formal decision shortly,” the spokesman added.
The Estonian government confirmed it was ready to take Britain’s place if necessary.
“Estonia has declared it will be flexible about the timing of the EU presidency after the British withdrawal,” said Tiina Urm, Head of Communication for the EU Presidency at the Estonian Government Office.
“Although moving the presidency to an earlier period compared to the planned 2018 would not be Estonia’s first choice, they will be able to do it, if the president of the European Council makes a such proposal.”
Slovakia currently holds the presidency and will be followed by Malta in the first half of 2017.
Belgium had earlier been in the frame to take on the presidency after Britain dropped out.
Another EU diplomat confirmed there was broad agreement on the change to Estonia.
“Everyone was for this solution. Austria has a reservation because its presidency would than fall in an election period, and it might change with Romania,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
New member Croatia, which is not yet on the list to resumes the rotating EU presidency, “will be included in the first half of 2020” when the officially scheduled list of future presidencies currently ends.