EU Presidency: Belgium sets its sights low
30 June 2010
Belgium is to take over the rotating 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 the 13 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 for Herman Van Rompuy, European Council president, and Catherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs, to flesh out their new posts in full” as provided for in the Lisbon 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; use the climate conference in Cancún this December to live down the Union’s feeble showing at last year’s COP15 in Copenhagen, and implement the Stockholm programme to create a “European area of freedom, security and justice”.