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Belgium’s ambitious goals as EU Council Presidency – DW – 30 December 2023

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Asked why Belgium is particularly suited to take over the EU Council presidency in January, liberal Foreign Minister Haja Rabib recently said with a smile: “It’s a Belgian compromise.” [Belgian compromise]That’s our secret. ” At the presentation of the Belgian president’s agenda in December, she added, “We are better at finding solutions than creating problems.”

Mr. Rahbib, a native of the French-speaking Wallonia region, only entered politics a year and a half ago after a career as a television journalist. She describes Belgium as “a multilingual, multiethnic country with many ideas”, accustomed to debate and finding compromises. Rahbib himself was born to Algerian immigrant parents.

It will be up to the Belgian Council President to work with the European Parliament to finalize more than 100 outstanding legislative projects within the EU by the end of April. These include efforts to reform the bloc’s asylum process and regulate artificial intelligence.

The European Parliament will hold its last plenary session at the end of April before the European elections are held in the first week of June. Legislative projects that have not been completed by then will need to be tackled by the next European Parliament and the new European Commission, which will be established in the autumn.

Alexander de Croo must find a way to work with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor OrbánImage: Omar Habana/AP Photo/Photo Alliance

time is running out

The Belgian government therefore has little time to waste. Liberal Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, a native of Belgium’s Dutch-speaking Flanders region, wants to enact legislation that will promote a green restructuring of the economy and boost Europe’s international competitiveness. Mr Decroo said Europeans expected the EU to deliver results ahead of the European elections.

“It means protecting our people, it means strengthening our economy, it means preparing a common future,” said De Croo, summarizing Belgium’s agenda as EU Council Presidency. “For Belgium, this is the 13th time we have taken over the presidency, so we should know what we are doing and I am sure we have considerable experience.”

The Belgian government must try to come up with a long-term EU budget that includes 50 billion euros ($55.3 billion) in aid for war-torn Ukraine at a special summit on February 1. At the summit in December last year, Hungary used its veto to prevent this.

“It is important that we show our continued support for Ukraine,” Decroo said. He added: “The unity of this union will be critical in determining our shared success in the many challenges ahead.” But he did not elaborate on how he plans to change Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s mind.

It will be difficult to work with Eurosceptic Hungary, but cooperation is needed because Hungary will take over the rotating EU Council presidency from late 2024 after Belgium. Ravib said a public hearing on rule of law issues will be held in Hungary. Still, she remained optimistic. She said, “We work as a trio. To me, it’s like any other presidency.”

However, it is unclear whether the first intergovernmental talks on an agreement to begin accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova will be held in the first half of 2024. Belgium wants to focus on expanding the bloc and preparing to welcome new EU members.

Hungary criticizes Ukraine’s EU outlook

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Reforms urgently needed

The EU cannot continue to operate as before, according to Janis Emanouilidis of the European Policy Center. Speaking at an event in December, he said there was an urgent need for a discussion on the EU’s internal mechanisms and strategic foreign policy objectives. Emanouilidis argued that the next year brings a number of potential challenges to the EU, including possible Russian expansionism towards the EU’s borders, a shift to the right in European elections, and Donald Trump in the US. He argued that this included the possibility of re-election.

“President Putin is watching us and might challenge us if the European elections go poorly, if the US elections go poorly,” Emanuilidis said. “Are we prepared for such a situation?” He added, “The old logic no longer works, but at least the fact that we now understand how bad the situation is and are more brutally honest about how bad it is.” “It’s not news, it’s good news.” That is why strategic discussions have been delayed under Belgium’s EU Council Presidency, he said.

However, some Belgian journalists doubt that the Belgian government has the power to pursue its ambitious policies, given that local, regional and federal elections will be held alongside June’s European elections. I suspect that it is. It is far from clear whether Belgium’s seven-party coalition will be able to remain in power.

The alliance, which is made up of the Socialist Party, Green Party, Liberal Party and Christian Democratic Party, is trailing in opinion polls. Meanwhile, right-wing parties and radical right-wing separatists are gaining ground in Flanders. Their rise could further complicate government formation. After the last election, it took almost 500 days for the current coalition government to form.

However, Prime Minister De Croo does not think the campaign will complicate or affect his country’s EU Council presidency, although his party, the Flanders Freedom Party, has fallen sharply in the polls. Therefore, it is unlikely that Prime Minister Decroo himself will return as head of government.

This article has been translated from German.

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