The current mandate of the European institutions is almost at an end, looking towards the parliamentary elections (6-9 June 2024), while the Council Presidency was officially handed over by Spain to Belgium on January 1. Belgium will assume (until June 30) the rotating Presidency of the Council for the thirteenth time since the beginnings of the European Union, in a moment when the institutions are facing several internal challenges on numerous crucial topics and when many global crises are raging across international chessboard – the economic and social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Russian aggression in Ukraine and the intensified conflict in the Middle East, the energy crisis, climate change.

In this context, the Belgian Presidency’s programme and priorities were presented by Alexandre De Croo, Prime Minister of Belgium, and Hanja Lahbib, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during an official press conference which took place in Brussels on December 8. The apical representatives of Belgium pointed out the three main issues which the Belgian Presidency will work on – protecting the European population, strengthening the bloc’s economy and preparing it for the future. The agenda will focus on six thematic areas ensuring a seamless transition and a solid continuity between the closing presidency and the incoming one (Hungary). Below are three macro-issues summarising the Belgian programme.

The Belgian agenda and pillars
Through the official channels, President De Croo stated that the forthcoming presidency will follow strict guidelines to achieve its mandate. As previously mentioned, one of the Council’s first objectives is to ‘protect the population’, safeguarding the security and the well-being of European citizens through strengthening the social agenda and healthcare system. Moreover, the following pillar points out the importance of ‘improving economy’ to increase EU competitiveness at regional and global levels, encouraging “a green, digital and fair economic transition”. As well, the next months will also be devoted to reforming policies, budgets and institutions to be able to fulfill ‘preparing for the future’, in view of a further enlargement of the European community.

The agenda is hefty and deals with specific issues. To respect the proposals, the main purpose of the Belgian leadership is to provide new input to the Council’s legislative work, ensuring a smooth running of the legislative process and an efficient cooperation between institutions and among Member States. According to the goals presented in the official programme, President De Croo and his staff have outlined a strategy that will adopt three approaches concerning the legislative agenda, the strategic agenda and the reform agenda. In order of priority, before the European elections, Belgian efforts will be aimed at finalising as many dossiers as possible from the over 150 drafts which are still on the institutional table. Moreover, in accordance with the last Parliament plenary session and the last European Council outputs, both occurred in the second half of December 2023, Belgium will lead the definition process concerning the strategic agenda of 2024-2029, which is expected to be a crucial decade for the EU. Finally, President De Croo emphasised his commitment to promoting reforms and new common practices in order to stabilise the Union and to improve its internal cohesion and external reputation.

The first trimester of 2024 is going to be particularly intense for the new Presidency being called upon to tie up many loose ends before the elections in June. Worth mentioning is that Belgium will have more than the usual number of representatives participating in the different Council configurations. Hence, Belgium is the only EU Member State to use an article from the Maastricht Treaty allowing regions to speak on behalf of the federal entity where it falls under their competence. Having acknowledged this, the following domains will be represented by regional authorities – Industry (Flanders), Research (Wallonia) and Environment (Brussels) -, while the remaining will fall under the federal representative.