Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Belgium will contribute with a little bit of surrealism in European politics

Adelina Marini, July 1, 2010

Belgium is taking over the 6-month rotation Presidency of the European Union in a moment of shattered political system in the country, of another doze of uncertainty about the future government and of serious political and economic turbulences in the European Union itself. This is why Belgium would have to input a little bit of surrealism during the six months it will preside over the Union. Or as the famous Rene Magritte's painting implies, depicting a pipe and saying explicitly "This is not a pipe". This is exactly how the European consensus sounds - we will make a European governance but it will not be a governance.

And with regard to the priorities of the Belgian Presidency, for which we will understand whether they are a pipe or not by the end of the year, are the introduction of a new regulatory and supervisory structure of the financial sector. Here a major factor will be the legislative initiatives of the European Commission for crisis prevention and to protect savers and businesses from systematically-failing financial institutions.

One of the main issues for Belgium would be employment. The country will pay special attention on green and white (public employees) jobs. But it does not become clear from the Presidency Programme how exactly the Presidency will address unemployment, especially on a Community level.

Research, development and innovations would be another issue on which there are yet to be a lot of debates in the European Union. What catches the eye in the Presidency Programme (which is 52 pages long) is that Belgium will try and define indicators to measure both the extent to which the crucial objective of 3% is being met, as well as the progress achieved through the creation of a European Research Area. These indicators would be interesting because Bulgaria has already stated its capacity could reach no more than 0.6%-0.7% of GDP to be spend on innovations.

And another priority which might attract Bulgaria's attention (or at least should). One of the bottlenecks impeding growth, identified also in Mario Monti's report prepared on behalf of the European Commission, is infrastructure. In fact, Belgium is also interested in this priority because although with has well developed road infrastructure, a large part of Belgian highways need renovation. According to the Presidency, the response to this challenge cannot come from the Member States alone. This is why the Union must also contribute, particularly where cross-border infrastructure is concerned.

For the purpose the Belgian Presidency promises to seek cooperation by the Commission and the European Investment Bank. It is interesting that although in just one sentence, the authors of the programme for the next 6 months have included a commitment special attention to be paid to securing energy supplies (as part of infrastructure).

The Presidency will also try and ensure that all common policies, including agricultural policy and cohesion policy, support the new economic strategy of the EU for the next 10 years of development of the European economy Europe 2020. By the way, this was one of the conditions which the new British government outlined after taking office.

In addition to this the Belgian Presidency will try and link this process to the new targets, set in the Energy and Transport policies in order to boost transition to green economy. One of the ideas in this direction is adaptation through taxation regulatory framework, aimed at financing such a transition on a Community level.

Very good impression leaves the fact that Belgium is paying special attention to the Western Balkans in the context of the Enlargement Policy. In line with the message conveyed at the Ministerial Meeting held in Sarajevo on 2 June 2010, the Presidency will also work to establish closer relations with the region, especially with regard to progress on reforms.

And given the reform of the internal market that is being initiated, Belgium will focus on the creation of a real online market as well as of "an internal digital market". Therefore it is expected the Commission to present its proposals for the creation of European online trade, in compliance with all effective competition rules, intellectual rights protection and protection of the rights of consumers. It is during the Belgian Presidency that a large scale debate is to start on the future of the internal market of the Community.

The only challenge to the realisation of the indeed very important priorities of the Belgian Presidency would be the political stability of the country. Obviously in an attempt to ensure such stability as much as possible the Presidency explicitly states that some Councils of the EU will be presided by representatives of the two main communities in Belgian - Flanders and Wallonia.