Wednesday

18th Sep 2019

Belgian presidency sets parliament in its sights

  • Belgian officials have set out on an MEP charm offensive (Photo: caruba)

Belgium formally takes over the EU's six-month rotating presidency from Spain today (1 July), promising a slimmed-down but professional performance under the bloc's new Lisbon Treaty rules.

"It's clear that the transitory period between Nice and Lisbon is over," Belgian foreign minister Steven Vanackere said earlier this week. "We intend to work a lot with the [newly empowered] European Parliament."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The country, a founding EU member state, has plenty of experience as it heads into its 12th turn at the helm. Despite currently muddling along with a caretaker government, it insists it is capable of handling the bloc's ongoing economic troubles, which, officials admit, are liable to flare up again.

"September 11th [2001] took place under our last watch," said one senior finance official. "I think we can say we know how to deal with crises."

Economic issues are set to dominate the agenda, with a number of weighty files hanging over from the outgoing Spaniards. In particular, Belgian diplomats will need to use all their skills to broker a deal between member states and the European Parliament on the EU's financial supervisory package - the bloc's principle legislative response to the economic crisis.

Originally published by the commission last September, member states have since sought to weaken the measures while MEPs want to toughen them up in many areas, with the 1 January 2011 deadline for setting up the new supervisory bodies fast approaching.

Legislation on hedge funds is on the agenda of next month's meeting of EU finance ministers, with the issue of "third countries" - or how to apply EU rules to funds from outside the bloc - flummoxing earlier attempts at securing a deal.

National governments are also under pressure to outline their country-specific targets in areas such as education and research spending by December, as part of the EU's 2020 growth strategy.

The European Commission will come forward with legislative proposals this September on how to toughen the EU's national budgetary rules in the face of the region's recent debt crisis, while a taskforce under European Council President Herman Van Rompuy is set to produce its final report on the same subject in October.

The job of marrying these proposals will fall at the feet of the Belgian presidency. MEPs have slammed the process as overly "intergovernmental" - Brussels jargon for decision-making made between national governments directly rather than via EU institutions. Meanwhile, the prospect of earlier and tougher fines for fiscal miscreants and a "peer review" system of member states' national budgets is likely to ensure that the debate remains sharp.

Foreign policy

"The implementation of the Lisbon treaty will be a key part of the Belgian presidency. That is why you will not hear my views on foreign policy," Mr Vanackere declared on Monday.

The statement is a tacit acknowledgement of tensions that dogged the relationship between EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Spain's foreign minister Miguel Moratinos.

Mr Vanackere said he will not encroach on Ms Ashton's job of setting up a new EU diplomatic service, instead offering Belgian diplomats to "act under her guidance," including the staffing of undermanned EU missions abroad if requested.

Iceland, Croatia, Turkey and Macedonia will ensure that enlargement issues remain prominent over the next six months. "Moratinos said he would open three chapters on Turkey but the Spanish presidency didn't open any," said a Belgian official on condition of anonymity. "We want to open one, so maybe we will get it."

Spain in fact opened one minor Turkish chapter, on food safety, on the last day of its presidency on Wednesday, after the Belgian official's remarks.

Just as the Spaniards turned the EU's attention to Latin America, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Belgium's former colony, is likely to pop up at some point on the agenda, with Belgium also keen to make progress on free trade agreements with Canada and India.

In home affairs, the new presidency will attempt to put some shape on the Stockholm Programme, the bloc's loosely agreed five-year plan on issues such as security, asylum and immigration.

European businesses will be clamouring for an "EU patent" law to be finally secured, while in December ministers will head to Cancun, Mexico, for a further round of UN climate talks, with expectations low after last year's disappointment in Denmark.

"We are still all stunned after Copenhagen," said a senior environment official. "We have no idea how the Mexicans are going to organise the debate."

The new European Commission: what's next?

Informal interviews with von der Leyen, hearings with parliamentary committees, and votes in the EU parliament and Council await the 26 candidates.

Investigation

US billionaires funding EU culture war

Conservative US billionaires, some with links to Trump, are paying anti-abortion lobbyists in Europe tens of millions of dollars to shape policy and law.

Investigation

The EU committee's great 'per diem' charade

Around 30 members of European Economic Social Committee, who live and work primarily in Brussels or nearby, have claimed €1.47m in a 'daily subsistence' allowance from European taxpayers to cover accommodation, food and local transport for meetings held in Brussels.

News in Brief

  1. EU adds €100m to research and Erasmus budgets
  2. Ambassador: UK Poles should 'seriously considering' leaving
  3. Trump's UK ambassador stirs up anti-EU feeling
  4. Brexit chaos is lesson to other EU states, ECB governor says
  5. EU condemns Israel's latest land grab
  6. Scotland to keep some laws aligned with EU after Brexit
  7. Spain to hold fresh election in November
  8. Turkey ups pressure on visa-free entry into EU

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. A new Commission for the one percent
  2. Juncker: No-deal Brexit 'palpable'
  3. Germany adopts blockchain strategy and says no to Libra
  4. Revanchist Russia continues to rewrite European history
  5. How EU trains discriminate against the disabled
  6. These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission
  7. Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs
  8. Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us