Road to EU 2024

The Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU: challenges and priorities ahead of the EU elections

January 2024
By Diana Adly

On the 1st of January 2024, Belgium took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the 13th time and will be in office until 30 June 2024. The timing of the Belgian Presidency is delicate, given the turbulent geopolitical landscape marked by the aftermath of the Russian illegal aggression in Ukraine, the energy crisis, and a renewed conflict in the Middle East.

Adding to the complexity is the upcoming European Parliament election scheduled for June 6-9, 2024. This implies that a substantial part of the legislative work needs to be completed early in the year, as the subsequent months will see Members of the European Parliament immersed in re-election campaigns. More specifically, the deadlines related to the conclusion of the 2019-2024 mandate include internal deadlines set by the European Parliament for dossiers currently under discussion (i.e. 5 February for agreements in trilogues, 11 March for files subject to corrigendum). Belgium will undoubtedly try to close important dossiers that could not be concluded before. The Belgian Presidency will have the central goal of making significant progress on many of the legislative files. However, some important dossiers will be very difficult to close in 2024.

Considering these challenges, the Belgian Government has articulated its priorities under the slogan “Protect, Strengthen, Prepare“. This overarching theme is not just a motto, but a roadmap that underpins the strategy for the next six months, with clear priorities and goals. The thematic focus areas are critical pillars upon which the Belgian Presidency aims to build its agenda. Defending the rule of law, democracy, and unity is at the forefront, with an emphasis on citizen empowerment, youth participation, and support for candidate countries seeking EU membership.

Competitiveness takes center stage as the Presidency endeavors to support the creation of a level playing field for businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Advancing the EU’s internal market and industrial future is a priority, along with a strong push for research, development, and innovation. In its ambitious programme for the next six months, the Belgian Presidency expressed its willingness to close several key files in this area, such as the Net Zero Industry Act, the Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence and the Framework on Industrial Design.

A green and just transition is another cornerstone, aligning with the EU’s agenda to combat climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. The Presidency aims to champion the energy and climate transition, circular economy, and sustainable water management, ultimately striving for climate neutrality and a flexible, integrated EU energy network. Moreover, the Presidency will commit to closing key dossiers related to digital matters and telecommunications, such as the Artificial Intelligence Act and the Gigabit Infrastructure Act.

As regards Economic and Financial affairs matters, the Belgian Presidency will focus on finalising the Union’s economic governance review, on continued financial support to Ukraine, and on legislation governing the Banking Union and the Capital Markets Union. The Presidency will also work on narrowing the VAT gap, on EU own resources, on completing the mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

Social and health agendas also come under the spotlight, building on the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Presidency advocates for an inclusive, gender-equal, and fair European society, addressing social protection, mental health, and the development of the social economy. Additionally, support for EU crisis preparedness, health workforce development, and access to affordable medicines are key components.

Protecting people and borders remains a focal point, with legislative files related to the new European migration and asylum pact high on the Council’s agenda. Trust, responsibility, and solidarity among Member States are emphasized, along with efforts to reinforce the external dimension of migration and asylum, combat organized crime and terrorism, and enhance EU resilience to crises.

Lastly, the Belgian Presidency emphasizes a global Europe, calling for an assertive approach that prioritizes openness, dialogue, and cooperation. Mobilizing economic, security, defense, and humanitarian capabilities is on the agenda, along with the pursuit of an ambitious and balanced trade policy. The Presidency advocates for the strengthening of health care systems globally and equitable access to quality health care services.

As the current institutional cycle concludes, the Belgian Presidency will support the transition to the next one. The coming months will be crucial for drawing conclusions from this legislative term and, more importantly, for shaping the next one.