Belgium’s time to act: Leading the Council in time of need.

 Belgium has taken over the presidency of the Council of the European Union. This comes at a moment when a lot is at stake within and outside of the Union. Disinformation, climate change and conflicts already ongoing or in the process of erupting around the globe, in addition to the European Parliament Elections in June, Belgium’s presidency is especially poignant.

Feb 9, 2024
Photograph of 3 EU flags waving in the wind

This article will get you up to speed on the basics of what you need to know on the workings of the Council of the European Union, and what role Belgium will play in all of this.

As Europe is slowly but steadily gearing up for the electoral campaign in June of this year, Belgium has taken over the presidency of the Council of the European Union. Starting from the 1st of January, Belgium has assumed the rotating presidency for the thirteenth time. This is at a moment when the European Union is dealing with a substantial amount of internal and external challenges, among others the consequences of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, the energy crisis, disinformation, extreme climate events, and conflict brewing in the Middle East.

As specified on the official website of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, this kind of chairmanship involves a range of tasks. As president of the Council, Belgium will coordinate its operations and promote collaboration between the Member States. In occupying the presidency, Belgium will be responsible for the meetings of the Council. This council consists of Ministers from the European Member States. The Council calls upon the relevant Ministers for consultation or to make an important decision. The representatives from each country work on the following tasks together:

  • Negotiating and determining EU legislation, in consultation with the European Parliament and based on proposals from the European Commission;

  • Coordinating EU countries' policy;

  • Developing the EU's foreign and security policy based on the guidelines from the European Council;

  • Concluding agreements between the EU and other countries and international organizations;

  • Establishing the annual EU budget, along with the European Parliament.

Belgium’s role in all of this is to chair the meetings of the Council and contribute towards the continuation of the Council’s activities; the course of legislative processes; and the collaboration between the Member States and the other EU institutions. As emphasized, the chair thus acts as a ‘’fair and neutral mediator (honest broker).’’

In a way, Belgium’s presidency is extra poignant, in terms of the challenges Europe is dealing with, but also when considering the fact that within Brussels an enormous amount of energy and preparation is going to be dedicated to the upcoming European elections. Elections of which are compounded by the fact that Belgium itself is also preparing for the Federal and Regional elections, which will take place on the same day as the European elections. In effect, Belgium has no time to lose in its position of holding the presidency.

As Belgium has only just started its chairing of the presidency, it is still too early to evaluate what results its efforts have led to. So what goals has Belgium set itself in taking over the presidency of the Council of the European Union?

Belgian goals

As with every presidency of the Council of the European Union, the member state in question occupying the presidency will set itself certain goals for the duration of the presidency. In Belgium’s case, the following goals are emphasized:

‘’ The Belgian presidency will work towards better protecting European citizens, strengthening our cooperation, and preparing our shared future. It will focus on six thematic areas, and will provide particular attention to maintaining our unwavering support to Ukraine. [In addition,] it will support the adoption of the Strategic Agenda 2024-2029 and prepare discussions on the future of the European Union.’’

Six thematic areas are noted on the official website:







It is still too early to comment on the effectiveness of Belgium’s presidency in 2024, but it is clear that Belgium is taking on quite ambitious goals, even though these goals seem open-ended. However, the fact that the challenges are legion at the moment, makes Belgium’s presidency crucial.

What still remains

It is clear that Belgium in its presidency of the Council of the European Union will be involved in a large number of subjects and themes. Just taking a look at the ‘events’ page of the official website shows that it is frantically making use of its time to fill up its term on various events. These events relate to all kinds of things: agriculture, climate, foreign affairs, employment, social policy, education, transport, telecommunications, competitiveness, justice and cultural events.

Because of time constraints due to the upcoming European Elections, it seems plausible that Belgium will see on a case-by-case basis what is realistic to pursue in conducting its affairs in chairing the Council of the European Union. The other member states are counting on Belgium to deliver. The EU has just announced that it will give Ukraine crucial funds so it can continue defending itself, but finalizing the new migration and asylum pact is still on the table. Belgium will certainly play a role in this regard.

Furthermore, Belgium will also need to review the EU’s future enlargement, taking a look at inta-European reforms, which will allow the EU as a whole to integrate new members such as Moldova and Ukraine.

Last but not least, one unspoken matter is the fact that Hungary will take over the presidency in the second half of this year. With Budapest being uncooperative in its dealings with other EU member states and Brussels, the Belgians will have the special honour of getting crucial deals done before Hungary can start pushing buttons left and right.

The presidency in time of need

As noted, it is too premature to speak of how effective Belgium has been in its presidency and how feasible certain actions have been so far. That moment of evaluation will be reserved for later. In addition, as the role of the presidency is a ‘standard-procedure’, with just six months to get things done, one might question the extent to which it is realistic that Belgium can achieve certain feats of strength during its term. 

On the other hand, seeing the challenges the EU is facing, both internally and externally, a certain sense of duty suddenly befalls the position of the presidency at this moment in time. One could say that time and circumstance have conspired to give Belgium the ‘honour’ of taking over the presidency while so much is at stake in Europe and the world. Time will tell whether Brussels is capable of taking the lead. 

Article by Benjamin Looijen.