Protect, strengthen and prepare: Belgium outlines EU Presidency priorities

Belgium on Friday presented its priorities and programme for its incoming presidency of the Council of the European Union. The country's guiding principles will be to protect, strengthen and prepare Europe.

Belgium is taking on the EU presidency for the 13th time in the history of European cooperation. From 1 January, the country will preside over the EU's ministerial councils and all preparatory meetings for six months.

Prime minister Alexander De Croo and Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib outlined the country's priorities at a press conference on Friday.

Rude awakening

"The past years have been a rude awakening," said De Croo, summing up the challenges facing the bloc, including the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. "We will continue to emphasise the values of dignity, we will continue to plead for the respect of human rights," he said.

The Belgian presidency wants to make efforts to better protect European citizens, to strengthen the economy and to prepare Europeans for a shared future. These aims are translated into six thematic priorities, including defending the rule of law, democracy and unity, strengthening competitiveness, pursuing a green and just transition, and protecting people and borders.

Future enlargement

De Croo also touched on preparing the European Union for enlargement to 30 or more member states as part of the bloc's strategic agenda. "What are the challenges of the future and how do we adapt? How do we keep the EU running?" are among the questions that need to be answered.

Belgium will place a particular focus on the EU’s capacity to integrate new members

"We've given countries that look at the European Union a list of homework, but we also have to do our homework. And we have quite a lot of homework to do to be sure that when you are ready, we will be ready as well," said De Croo.

According to its official programme, the Belgian presidency will "place a particular focus on the EU’s capacity to integrate new members and advance the reflection on the internal reforms required for a successful future enlargement".

One of the key issues will be adapting the EU's foreign policy decision-making mechanisms. With regard to the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Belgium is "ready to facilitate an open discussion on qualified majority voting", the programme states.

Unwavering support for Ukraine

Continued "unwavering" support for Ukraine is paramount, De Croo said. Some believe tensions will run high at a European summit next week to decide on a major financial aid package for Ukraine. But the European Union has "never failed" to renew its support, even in difficult times, De Croo said.

"We Belgians are used to working in overtime and delivering in overtime"

The Belgian presidency coincides with the end of the current EU legislature. There are still some 150 files on the table, but the country is not shying away from this daunting workload. "We Belgians are used to working in overtime and delivering in overtime," said De Croo.

A specific feature of the Belgian Presidency is that the various formal and informal councils of ministers will be chaired by Belgian ministers, including regional ministers where regional powers are concerned. For example, Federal minister Annelies Verlinden will chair the Home Affairs Council, while Walloon Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo will chair the meetings of ministers responsible for cohesion policy.

Formal Council meetings will be held in Brussels or Luxembourg, but informal meetings will be held throughout Belgium, including in Bruges, Genk, Ghent and Namur.



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