‘We need to deliver’: Belgium ready to rise to helm of EU presidency

‘We need to deliver’: Belgium ready to rise to helm of EU presidency
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo during a press conference ahead of a meeting on the main political dossiers to be adopted during the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Credit: Belga / Jonas Roosens

On a foggy morning in Brussels, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo marked the "unofficial start" of the upcoming Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union at a press conference, with just over a month before it begins.

Speaking alongside European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, De Croo stated it was the 13th time that Belgium will take the reins – with the last time being in 2010. During the Presidency, Belgian ministers (both federal and regional) will chair the Council of the European Union until 30 June 2024.

"Our Presidency comes at an important moment, where we need to respond to the expectations of our countries,” De Croo told journalists, referencing the upcoming elections in both Belgium and the EU in June. "That means protecting our people, our economy and our future."

Promoting cooperation within the European Union will be key in dealing with the many challenges ahead, De Croo said. "In the European Union today we stand at a crossroads. Unity will be of critical importance in achieving our shared success."

De Croo spoke out about facing a more "unstable" and "hostile"  geopolitical environment, which will mean prioritising – for the next few weeks and months – the stability of the European continent. In this context, he also stressed the importance of showing continued support for Ukraine.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola is welcomed by Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib. Credit: Belga / Jonas Roosens

During its Presidency, Belgium will close the current mandate, finalise the remaining work and ensure a smooth transition to the next presidency and EU term. It will also prepare the Council’s priorities for the next term and relay the priorities of Member States to the next European Commission and European Parliament.

When asked about the priorities of the upcoming Presidency, De Croo stated: "There is the whole domain of asylum and migration, and that’s a crucial one for everyone… we will only tackle that if we do it as a bloc."

The Belgian PM also added that there is a whole series of laws that needs to be finalised in the European Green Deal, including protections for the climate, but also on "the other side" for social and industrial protections.

"We need to deliver. And we need to deliver on quite a substantial amount of legislative work and we are really looking forward to it," De Croo concluded, before thanking the current Spanish Presidency.

'Belgians are good negotiators'

Speaking alongside De Croo, European Parliament President Metsola noted that she was "already confident" that Belgium’s presidency would be successful.

"You have the experience, you have the knowledge and the motivation," and also stressed that "Belgians are good negotiators" when it comes to the final legislative sprint with the European Parliament.

Prime Minister De Croo, Belgian ministers and European Parliament President Metsola in a group photo. Credit: Belga / Jonas Roosens

There will be meetings held today between Belgian and EU officials to discuss the upcoming political priorities, which will mean they will "hit the ground running," Metosla stated.  Belgian ministers will also visit the European Parliament to unofficially make the beginning of the Presidency.

"The Belgian Presidency will mark 20 years since the last EU convention," Metsola said. "At that time, the convention came from the 2001 Belgian Presidency and Laeken Declaration, so we hope that 23 years later the Belgian Presidency will take the lead."

Metsola also noted there were around 150 files that still need to be closed, "so no pressure on all of us", she said, to which De Croo replied jokingly: "Now we are getting nervous!”

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