European Parliament visit heralds start of Belgian EU presidency
On Thursday, key representatives of the European Parliament visited prime minister Alexander De Croo and other ministers. At a joint press conference with Parliament president Roberta Metsola, De Croo said the event marked the start of the Belgian EU presidency on 1 January.
In the first half of 2024, Belgian federal and regional ministers will preside over the Council of the European Union. To prepare for this presidency, the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament visited Belgium on Thursday. The president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, the first vice-president and several leaders of the political groups attended the visit.
Unity within the Union is important to tackle our many challenges
This is the first official visit by an EU institution to Belgium in connection with the presidency. "In a way, this is the unofficial start," said De Croo, who noted that the Belgian presidency comes at a crucial time. "Unity within the Union is important to tackle our many challenges. The geopolitical environment has become more unstable and somewhat hostile. We have to make important decisions to stabilise our continent to some extent. This will be the priority in the coming weeks and months".
This is the 13th time Belgium has held the title of EU president for a six-month term. When asked about specific prominent agendas, De Croo pointed to the ongoing negotiations on the asylum and migration pact and the Green Deal. On the latter, De Croo said it represented Europe at its best. "But we also need to look at how we can continue to support our industry. Everything related to industrial policy and how we can keep industry in Europe will be crucial for us".
Metsola said she was "cautiously optimistic" about the prospects for a broad agreement on European asylum and migration policy, which has been debated for years. She expects a breakthrough on 7 December for a new round of negotiations or, failing that, on 18 December. "This should pave the way for a political agreement (of the European Parliament, ed.) with the Council just before Christmas."
Then, after the New Year, the Belgian presidency can take over what remains of the pact, allowing the European Parliament to vote in February or March, Metsola said. Time is of the essence, however, as the plenary session of the Parliament will be held for the last time in April, before the European elections in June.
De Croo acknowledged that Belgium will be the last president of the current legislature and, in this capacity, will have to prepare the political priorities for the next five years. "We look forward to working with the Parliament because if we want to be successful, we must work together as effectively as possible."
We expect the candidate countries to reform and change to join
Looking ahead to the debate on the enlargement of the European Union, Metsola said, "We expect the candidate countries to reform and change to join, but we need to do the same on our side. What works for 27 countries won't work for 32, 33 or even more member states.
Last week, the European Parliament adopted a report calling for revising the European treaties to reform the Union on a large scale. Negotiations for such treaty changes must take place in a Convention. "It has been twenty years since the last Convention met, and the foundations were laid with the Laeken Declaration in 2001 when Belgium held the EU presidency. Let's hope that, 23 years later, the Belgian presidency can again take the lead," concluded Metsola.
© BELGA PHOTO JONAS ROOSENS