Netherlands takes over EU presidency as asylum issue looms

Starting today the Netherlands is the president of the European Union. And with divided politicians, critical citizens and international tensions putting the Union under pressure, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his ministers are set to have a difficult term, according to broadcaster NOS.

Without a doubt one of the most difficult issues the Netherlands will face while in charge of the EU is the influx of refugees to Europe. In 2015 more than a million asylum seekers and refugees arrived in Europe, and there is little hope that there will be fewer this year.

The main cause of the so-called refugee problem is the war in Syria - as long as the war continues, people will flee from it. The first tentative negotiations with involved parties may start late in January, but so far the international community have been unable to contain, much less resolve the conflict.

Another contribution to this problem is division in the EU. Despite numerous crisis talks and summits, most of the agreements made regarding the reception of asylum seekers, the asylum procedures, hotspots on the borders of Greece and Italy and guarding the borders better are yet to be implemented.

The Netherlands will also have to deal with the so-called Brexit during its term as EU president in the first six months of this year. The United Kingdom government plans to hold a referendum on whether the UK will remain in the EU before the end of this year. British Prime Minister David Cameron made a number of demands and thinks that his country will only stay part of Europe if they are granted.

Then there is the Ukraine. In addition to dealing with the aftermath of the MH17 disaster and war in the east, there is also the association agreement to deal with. The EU and Ukraine agreed on closer political and economic cooperation in 2014, but the Netherlands will hold a referendum on the matter on April 8th. While the results are by no means binding, a "no" will put the Dutch government in a difficult position. Disappoint their own people? Or go back on the "yes" they already gave in 2014.

And that is not even most of it. The bulk of the work the Dutch officials have to do happens behind the scenes. The EU President takes part in every EU meeting, draws up agendas, prepares decisions and formulate compromises. And while most meetings will be held in Brussels, the Netherlands will have to accommodate many ministers and officials during its term as president.