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From 1 January to the end of June 2024, Belgium will assume the presidency of the Council of the European Union. Our country will seize that opportunity with both hands to build a unified and robust Europe for the benefit of us all. A look ahead.
The moment when Belgium takes the wheel of the Council of the European Union is fast approaching. Indeed, Belgium is set to hold the presidency from 1 January to 30 June 2024. Such a presidency involves two main tasks with the ultimate goal of concluding EU legislation.
Council configurations and working parties
On the one hand, the Belgian Presidency is responsible for organising, preparing and leading the 10 'configurations of the Council', bringing together the specialist ministers from the 27 Member States. Policy areas being discussed include 'Agriculture and Fisheries', 'Environment', 'Economic and Financial Affairs' and 'Transport, Telecommunications and Energy'. Only the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Cooperation Councils are not chaired by the rotating presidency, but rather by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell.
In each council, the Presidency will make sure that Member States discuss and agree on laws that will apply across the EU. It is essential for Belgium to act as an impartial and honest broker in this regard, which it inherently excels at.
However, the specialist ministers are not starting from scratch. After all, legislation is prepared in no less than 250 thematic working parties at civil servant level. And the Presidency also heads those working parties.
Economic and Financial Council session in November 2023, still under the Spanish Presidency. Soon it will be Belgium's turn! (© European Union)
Relations with Commission and Parliament
The second main task is for the Presidency to represent the Council in its relations with the other EU institutions, in particular with the Commission and the European Parliament. Its role is to try and reach agreement on legislative files. Primarily, it will be the Belgian Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Hadja Lahbib who will represent the Council in negotiations with the Parliament.
To be clear, this relates to the Council of the European Union, which brings together the specialist ministers. In contrast, the European Council gathers the heads of state and government of the 27 EU Member States and is currently led by Charles Michel. This European Council only sets the general political direction of the EU and leaves legislation to the Council of the European Union.
Minister Lahbib speaks to journalists at a Foreign Affairs Council on 13 November 2023. During the Belgian Presidency, minister Lahbib will represent the Council in the negotiations with the Parliament (© Eric Herschaft).
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo will present the final programme of the Presidency on 8 December 2023. However, the main outlines are already clearly defined.
To begin with, there is obviously an important legislative component. The Belgian Presidency wants to finalise as many issues as possible before the European elections taking place between 6 and 9 June 2024. The deadline is actually set for the end of April, when the European Parliament will be dissolved ahead of the elections.
Several sensitive issues are on the table such as the Pact on Migration and Asylum, the Net-Zero Industry Act within the Green Deal, the European Democracy Action Plan, the electricity market reform and the economic governance review.
As the Belgian Presidency falls at the end of the Commission’s term of office, Belgium also wants to lay a solid foundation for the EU Strategic Agenda 2024-2029. As such, it can help shape the broad directions taken by the EU in the near future.
This five-year policy plan will be the result of a collective effort by all Member States, led by the President of the European Council and supported by the Belgian Presidency.
This includes the appointments of the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council, after EU citizens have had the chance to vote in June 2024.
The Europa building where the Council of the EU is located (© Shutterstock).
Belgium has already formulated six strategic areas.
- Security, defence and migration
Russia's war in Ukraine has made it clear that peace on the European continent is not something to be taken for granted. Hence the crucial importance of joint security and defence. After all, security is indispensable as a foundation for the EU's prosperity and economic development. In addition, our country advocates orderly and humane migration management.
- Rule of law and democracy
Democratic values are under threat both inside and outside the EU. Respecting the rule of law is thus something Belgium wants to continue to focus on. It will explore ways to make current instruments sustainable and strengthen the rule of law.
- Economy, internal market and trade
To safeguard the EU's economic position, the focus will be on two extremely important challenges: supply security and competitiveness. The focus will include industrial policy and strengthening the internal market, digital and environmental transition, and research and innovation.
- Social policy, employment and health
Belgium wants the EU to develop a strong social agenda for the next legislature. This is necessary given the current context with its many challenges, including an ageing population and environmental and technological transitions. Hence the importance of decent wages, good quality work and strong social protection. The health and well-being of citizens should also be paramount.
- The green transition
The European Green Deal, including the Fit for 55 package, should continue to be put into practice in order to ensure the route to net zero emissions by 2050. Moreover, the transition must be socially equitable.
Agriculture should respond to the need for European food sovereignty without losing sight of aspects such as the environment, animal welfare, affordable food and a decent income for farmers.
- The future of the European Union
Global turmoil has greatly accelerated EU enlargement. In less than a year, the European Council granted candidate status to three countries, namely Ukraine, Moldova and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Georgia was promised that status.
Belgium does not want to rush into this. Countries that were given prospects of accession must first make the necessary reforms and comply with the Copenhagen criteria.
Within the European policy areas handled by the Council and the Presidency, our Federal Public Service (FPS) is responsible for the future of the EU, foreign policy, foreign trade, development cooperation and general European issues such as the rule of law and democracy. The other specialist ministers within the government will each be able to take action within their own remit.
For Belgium, it is an honour and a privilege to hold the presidency of the Council of the European Union at a crucial time, and it is ready to take up that challenge. The EU model - open and democratic, equal rights for every citizen, a solid internal market, etc. - has proven its invaluable worth and will continue to do so in the future, despite confronting authoritarianism and populism as well as economic upheavals.
Did you know that the Presidency also has a dedicated website? This site is powered by the Belgian Presidency web team, which is part of the FPS Foreign Affairs. This is in cooperation with the partners of the federal and federated entities of the Presidency. The website itself is the product of a partnership with the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union.
The site, which will be accessible via the URL www.belgium24.eu after its launch on 8 December 2023, is intended to be a flagship for Belgium, but also a tool for making the European project more democratic to the wider public, a priority gateway to the media and a first-class source of information for professionals and experts on European issues.
Besides presenting the Belgian Presidency, in particular through its programme and priorities, the site contains a detailed agenda of political and cultural events in addition to events for the general public, all organised in the context of the Presidency. Special articles will expand on its challenges and results.