Belgium's political vacuum unharmful to its EU Presidency

09:06, July 09, 2010      

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As Belgium took over the rotating EU presidency from Spain, a political vacuum is in the making due to the resignation of Premier Yves Leterme.

Failed negotiations in April between Flanders' Dutch speaking parties and Wallonia-Brussels' French speaking parties on institutional reforms led to the fall of the coalition government.

Apart from that, Leterme's party lost in the June 13th general elections.

Leterme is now only waiting for a new government to be set up. However, it took the country some nine months to form a new government after the 2007 elections.

The current Belgian political crisis is "ill-timed," said King Albert II. Leterme said it would "have very bad consequences on both Belgian citizens' economic and social well-being and on its role at the European level."

Jose Emmanuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said he was "100 percent confident" about the Belgian presidency. Last Friday, he gave a press conference with Leterme at the end of talks with European Commissioners and Belgian government ministers in Brussels.

Barroso underlined that Belgium was not the only European country having domestic problems. He added that very few other European countries have such a strong enthusiasm for European affairs.

Belgium has always been active in the creation and the building-up of the EU. In the 1950s, Belgium was one of the six founding countries of the European Coal and Steel Community (ESCS), which led to the creation of the modern-day EU.

Situated in the middle of Europe and hosting EU headquarters, Belgium is described as the EU's "capital" and "heart."

Belgium's political parties have a "pro-European convergence," Barroso, said, adding that Bart De Wever, president of the New Flemish Alliance and tasked by King Albert II to set up the new government, promised full support for Belgium's EU presidency.

It's Belgium's twelfth time to take up the EU presidency. The country is experienced in shielding its internal affairs from affecting the European integration process, Barroso said.

The Belgian Presidency Program involves 10 sectors as part of the EU 2020 New Strategy. It prioritizes a competitive industrial policy, innovation and employment. It is also in favor of regulating the banking industry, the setting-up of economic governance and the strengthening of the Stability and Growth Pact.

According to Barroso, the European Commission is satisfied with the program, which has been in the works for two years.

Herman Van Rompuy, a Belgian national and president of the European Council, belonged to the same party as Leterme. When Van Rompuy resigned the premiership for the European Council presidency, Leterme succeeded him as head of the government.

In an interview with Xinhua, Mario Telo, researcher at the Institute of European Studies of Universite Libre de Bruxelles, said Belgium would allow Van Rompuy to "do his job properly, coordinate the economic policies and to pursue what is called an economic government of the EU."

"It means the new EU would appear united in the global political space. I feel this situation would give the opportunity to Mr. Van Rompuy to shine as a leader more than ever before," Telo said.

Janis Emmanouilidis, a researcher at the European Policy Center, told Xinhua that ever since the Lisbon Treaty came into force, the rotating presidency of the EU has become less and less important.

The roles of Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton, high representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, now have more weight.

"So this I think is the major reason why we should be less concerned about the fact there is only a chaotic government in place in Belgium, and probably until September, October", Emmanouilidis said.

According to Emmanouildis, the current greatest challenge of the EU is the financial and economic crisis that has hit the member states hard.

In the meantime, Van Rompuy will play a key role in coordinating the EU member states as they take up their responsibilities through turbulent times.

Source: Xinhua


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