EU presidency: A look ahead at Belgium’s cultural and civic agenda

On 1 January, Belgium assumes the presidency of the EU for the 13th time. As well as chairing high-level discussions on key issues such as expansion, climate and the upcoming elections, there will be a series of cultural events to showcase the country’s culture and history, and opportunities for citizen engagement.

More than 60 events have been chosen for their link with the European Union and democracy. Mechelen – which will kick off the presidency in Flanders – is hosting Construct Europe, a cultural and community-oriented city festival.

At the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, the For Evermore exhibition tells the stories of Commonwealth, French, Belgian, German and American cemeteries. Ostend is paying tribute to its most famous son, artist James Ensor, with a city festival in his honour.

Relationship with nature

In February, Brussels lights up with Bright Festival, featuring around 30 works created by national and international artists with a focus on Europe and its values. From April, Musea Brugge presents Rebel Garden. The exhibition explores our impact on nature, using art to look at the tumultuous relationship between human and nature.

Liveurope will present the 10th edition of its annual musical Europe Day celebrations at Ancienne Belgique in Brussels on 9 May, as Europe marks the signing of the Schuman Declaration.

In Bruges, the European Union Youth Orchestra will perform with three Queen Elisabeth Competition laureates, while the GOLD festival tells the story of a remarkable Bruges resident: Anselm Adornes, born 600 years ago in the city’s golden age.

Hearts of Europe

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, the international festival dedicated to contemporary theatre, dance, performance and visual arts, returns to Brussels for three weeks in May. The same month, Horst Arts & Music in Vilvoorde celebrates its 10th anniversary, while the Lunalia festival takes over Mechelen under the motto The Hearts of Europe.

The multidisciplinary Ghent International Festival returns in April for its second edition. Young people are at the heart of the programme, as Ghent is also European Youth Capital in 2024.

The first Nobel Prize Dialogue takes place at Bozar in Brussels, in the context of a sensitive election year. Nobel Prize winners, opinion leaders and scientists will discuss revitalising democracy, in partnership with the European Research Council.

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A programme of five short films will tell the story of Europe at venues in Brussels and Wallonia. The multilingual programme will address political, social and environmental themes that are at the heart of European current affairs.

The European Championships Poetry Slam sees the cream of European poetry gather in Antwerp for a linguistic battle, framed by debates, talks and a networking event. Throwaway: The History of a Modern Crisis, at Brussels’ House of European History, sheds light on the hidden history of waste in Europe and highlights its importance as a marker of social change.

In June, an exhibition about Antarctica and the voyage of the Belgica will open at the MAS museum. The ship left Antwerp some 125 years ago on an expedition to the South Pole. The crew had no idea that they would be the first to spend the winter in the polar ice.

Citizen participation

Alongside the cultural programme, a number of events will create opportunities for the public to get involved in debates on the EU and to actively contribute to establishing a vibrant citizen democracy. Around a dozen citizen activities will be organised by local authorities in various cities.

A panel of 60 citizens will meet in Brussels over three weekends to debate issues relating to the EU. The panel will include young people who will be voting for the first time in the elections in 2024.

With Ghent holding the title of European Youth Capital, the city’s young people are putting together a programme of events, debates, conferences and festivals that will continue throughout the year, to create international exchanges that connect diverse communities.

Foyer des jeunes des Marolles youth centre in Brussels will hold a networking event between young people and politicians from national and European political parties, in a speed dating format.

Finally, the three-week AJC Festival in February and March is three weeks of workshops, debates, conferences, shows, concerts, exhibitions, open mics, international meetings and more, intended for a young audience. It takes place at and locations in Wallonia and offers people aged 16 to 35 a physical space for expression, exchange and participation.

The complete programme of cultural and citizen events can be found on the Belgium24 website.


Milena Dopitova's project Even Odd at the National Gallery in Prague, November 2023. The project premiered in 2022 in Brussels, dedicated to the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union, and deals with the issue of solidarity © CTK PHOTO/ROMAN VONDROUS / Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib and prime minister Alexander De Croo at the presentation of the official programme of the Belgian presidency, 8 December 2023 © BELGA PHOTO HATIM KAGHAT

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