Four Months to Forge Change: Belgium's EU Council Presidency Challenge

The Belgian presidency faces the challenge of realizing ambitious goals in a limited timeframe

Belgium's presidency of the Council of the European Union, spanning from January 1st to June 30th, 2024, faces the arduous task of finalizing major ongoing dossiers before the legislature's end. The six priorities of the presidency will be the rule of law, economic competitiveness, the green transition, the social agenda, border protection, and the EU’s global positioning.

As to the social priorities, these include efforts to finalize pivotal legislation like the Directive on Platform Work and shaping the EU's social agenda for 2024-2029. To this end, the Belgian presidency aims to sign an Inter-institutional Declaration on the Future Social Agenda of the EU between the EU institutions, social partners, and civil society. This initiative enables to hand over to the next Commission a concrete Action Plan with specific initiatives and priorities in the social field.

As negotiations between Parliament and the Council on the reform of the European fiscal rules are about to start, Belgium will also use its presidency to ensure that the new rules leave enough space for Member States to implement social investments and reforms, while simultaneously preventing pro-cyclical cuts in times of economic downturn. Other objectives will be to strengthen the role of social and employment affairs ministers in the European Semester and to integrate the Social Convergence Framework in the Semester, an instrument aiming to detect and correct “social risks” within member states.

Lastly, Belgium targets combating social dumping and fostering fair labor mobility across the EU, with proposals to bolster the European Labour Authority and address rights and obligations in labor mobility, including for non-EU nationals.

Furthermore, Belgium's presidency faces several challenges. Among these is the fact that it will be marked by a tight timeline, as the final plenary session of the current European Parliament is scheduled for the end of April. This effectively leaves the Belgian presidency with only four months to finalize critical dossiers, a period further constrained by MEPs' focus on campaigning for the June elections. Moreover, the simultaneous occurrence of national elections in Belgium in June may impact its European leadership, with the expected rise of the far-right and separatist Vlaams Belang party possibly influencing the presidency's focus.

The full programme of the Belgian Council presidency is available here: https://belgian-presidency.consilium.europa.eu/media/3kajw1io/programme_en.pdf