EU Presidency

Belgium sets its sights low

Published on 30 June 2010 at 14:40

Belgium is to take over therotating EU presidency from Spain on 1 July. In the meantime, however, Belgian political leaders are immersed in tricky negotiations to form a new government after the13 June elections, so the incumbent executive, headed by Yves Leterme, has confined itself to providing essential services. It’s hard to be ambitious under the circumstances, which is why,remarks Le Soir, the Belgian presidency will “basically be taking care of day-to-day business” and “won’t be aiming high”. In fact, its chief political priority "will consist in making room forHerman Van Rompuy, European Council president, andCatherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs, to flesh out their new posts in full” as provided for in theLisbon Treaty.

According to the Belgian daily, however, this tack is “fraught with perils” because the heads of state and government (brought together in the Council) have a marked tendency to encroach on the European Commission’s remit. "In the past, Belgium has faithfully adhered to its tradition of eschewing the ‘intergovernmental’ approach and defending the ‘Community method’,” points out Le Soir, though recent months have seen “a slight falling-off, albeit nothing drastic as yet. But Belgium will have to be very wary in this regard if it is to defend an ambitious European project, and that vigilance will be a yardstick of the Belgian presidency’s performance.”

It will also be assessed on how it handles major business on its watch, first and foremost,points out De Standaard, the 4/5 October summit in Brussels between the EU and Asian countries (Asia-Europe Meeting or SEM for short), which will provide "a unique opportunity to put Belgium centre-stage”. During its stint at the helm Belgium should also set its sights on attaining "the financial stability” needed to break out of the crisis; usethe climate conference in Cancún this December to live downthe Union’s feeble showing at last year’s COP15 in Copenhagen, and implement theStockholm programme to create a “European area of freedom, security and justice”.

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