As of 1 January 2024, Belgium commenced its six-month tenure as the rotating president of the Council of the European Union, adopting the theme “Protect, Strengthen, Prepare.” The Belgian presidency, which succeeds Spain and precedes Hungary faces a packed agenda and will be cut short by the imminent European Parliament elections scheduled for 6-9 June. The Belgian Presidency will face operational challenges on its domestic front, as the country will also conduct its legislative elections on 9 June.
This period of leadership arrives during a critical time marked by various global challenges, including Russia’s war against Ukraine, the persistent conflict in the Middle East, the EU’s upcoming accession talks, the aftermath of the pandemic, and a widespread energy crisis.
In the first half of its mandate, the Belgian presidency will aim to expedite critical legislative files. These include the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) package, policies fostering clean technologies, the new Migration Pact, revisions to the Schengen Border Code, updates to the Economic Governance package, and a review of the Multiannual Financial Framework, alongside substantial support for Ukraine.
From April 2024, the presidency will shift to a “prospective phase,” focusing on broader policy discussions and setting the stage for the incoming Commission’s priorities. Belgium has outlined six primary objectives in its programme:
- Upholding the rule of law within the EU and in candidate countries, emphasizing democracy and judicial independence, particularly in negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova. The presidency intends to draft conclusions on EU enlargement and internal reform processes coherent with the bloc’s external policies. It is worth mentioning that the EU is considering internal reforms such as the use of QMV in new areas.
- Enhancing competitiveness through technological advancement, economic security, and reduced dependencies. This includes discussions on artificial intelligence and a potential energy partnership with Norway, alongside plans to formulate a strategic EU agenda.
- Continuing the Green Deal efforts, focusing on sustainable energies and water management. Anticipated actions include a 2040-50 action plan and the formal adoption of the Euro 7 vehicle emission regulations. The presidency will also collaborate on initiatives like the Hydrogen Bank under the REPowerEU framework.
- Strengthening the social and health agenda, with a focus on social dialogue and the first implementation of the Social Convergence Framework.
- Addressing security concerns, including counter-terrorism efforts, combating organized crime, and tackling disinformation and radicalism online. The presidency will also launch the “European Ports Alliance” to combat drug trafficking and is expected to present a European Defence Investment Strategy.
- Promoting a global Europe, resilient and autonomous, focusing on a rules-based trading system and high-quality healthcare services and products.
Key figures of the Belgian government will lead the presidency, including Willem van de Voorde, Belgium’s Permanent Representative to the EU; Prime Minister Alexander de Croo; Foreign Affairs Minister Hadja Lahbib; Theodora Gentzis, President of the FPS Foreign Affairs; and Hendrik Van de Velde, General Coordinator of the Presidency.
The Next presidency
The Belgian presidency will be succeeded by Hungary in June 2024, which assumes the role under controversial circumstances, given its position towards Russia and ongoing rule of law issues, which places additional pressure on Belgium to close key dossiers in its term.