EDS Winter University - Brussels, February 26th 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be able to talk here today to a group of young and bright people about the Belgian EU Presidency.
The 6 months in the latter half of 2010 will not only be important for Belgium itself but for the whole of the European Union. After all, our Presidency coincides with a crucial stage in the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty which will partially change our European institutional architecture and therefore also the way in which we work. This does not only apply to the relationship with the European Parliament and the organization of the European Councils but also to the EU’s external representation which no longer appertains to the rotating presidency. So, in many ways, this Belgian Presidency will differ from the 11 previous ones.
But the Belgian EU Presidency is not an isolated fact of course. We work within the framework of the Trio Presidency which covers the period from 1 January 2010 to 30 June 2011, in other words, the presidencies of Spain, Belgium and Hungary. During this Trio Presidency these countries will have the opportunity to reinforce the continuity and effectiveness of the EU’s performance, which is something the EU citizens and Member States crave in these uncertain times of economic and financial crisis and lack of clarity about the workings of the institutions.
The programme of the Trio Presidency was proposed at the meeting of the General Affairs Council in December 2009. A number of the many fields and themes featuring in this programme will play an important role during the second half of this year. As yet, it is too early to talk about the priorities of our presidency but I can already name a few elements that will definitely feature highly on the agenda. These can be grouped into about five clusters around which the Belgian Presidency programme will be developed. Of course, this does not mean that other themes will be put on the backburner or that the list has been finalized.
1. One important area is the current socio-economic situation in Europe, more particularly the economic recovery. We will have to continue our structural reforms, which includes pursuing the implementation of the new financial supervision architecture, strengthening the stability of the Eurozone, restoring budgetary discipline and ensuring a stronger European role in the global governance structures (IMF, G20).
A very important element in this context of course is the EU 2020 Strategy, which succeeds the Lisbon Strategy and will shape our future growth model. If we want the EU 2020 Strategy to produce concrete results, we have to improve on the methodology of the Lisbon Strategy. We will also need to think carefully about how we communicate the Strategy in order to increase ownership of our national, regional and local governments, employers, labour unions and of course the general public.
2. Another area is climate policy. Europe is not deviating from its own 2020 targets. I really hope that our partners will have learned from the failure of the Copenhagen Summit and will be ready to strive for an ambitious compromise in the months to come. But in the meantime, if we really want to achieve the goal of a green economy in the EU itself, we have to link our climate ambitions to other areas such as European transport and energy policies.
3. Thirdly: the area of security, justice, and home affairs. We will start the implementation of the Stockholm Programme, the framework for EU police and customs cooperation, cooperation in terms of criminal and civil law and the asylum, migration and visa policy for the period 2010–2014.
4. Fourthly: during our presidency, we will also continue the enlargement negotiations as an ‘honest broker’. This means that we maintain the European perspective for the candidate countries of South-Eastern Europe with the ultimate goal of EU membership once the conditions have been met by each country on its own merits. The negotiations with Turkey remain a long-term effort, depending of course on domestic reform in Turkey itself but also partly on external elements like the Cyprus question, for instance.
5. And last but certainly not least: as I mentioned before, the institutional questions, ensuing from the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, will also continue to require our attention. It is our aim to have all the machinery working as smoothly as the Treaty originally intended it to by the end of 2010. This includes ensuring that the main actors in this machinery work well together: the Permanent President of the European Council, the rotating presidency, the Commission, High Representative Cathy Ashton and the European Parliament. Over the past 10 years we have focused too much on institutional change. Now that the new institutional mechanism is in place, it is time to make it work.
As I underlined earlier: the Lisbon Treaty, which came into effect on 1 December, transforms the institutional architecture of the Union. It was devised to ensure greater coherency and above all to increase the European Union’s capacity for action. I plead for a break with the past without any hesitation, which would allow both the Permanent President of the European Council and the High Representative to represent the European Union externally, backed by proper structures, in first instance by the European External Action Service.
We expect the Council to decide in April on the establishment of the European External Action Service, which will be composed of members of the Commission, the Secretariat of the Council and the 27 Member States. Over the next few months, we will still find ourselves in a transitional stage. As yet, it is not clear how long this period will last (as briefly as possible, if it were up to us), but fact is that Belgium will offer the services of its diplomatic corps to the High Representative in Brussels and when she will be representing the Union outside of Europe.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
New institutions have been put in place but, so far, they have not been able to reach their full potential and won’t be able to do so in the future either if the Union and its Member States do not change their strategy and attitude. And this is urgent since several recent evolutions seem to indicate that the influence of Europe is waning. Let me illustrate this with a few examples:
• The December 2009 Copenhagen Summit has left a bitter taste. The EU did not succeed in making its voice heard the way it used to.
• Within the IMF, we have been asked to forfeit a number of Executive Council seats in favour of China and India.
• The G20, which plays a useful role in future global governance, symbolizes the fact that the West has come to recognize that it can no longer rule the world without taking the emerging economies into consideration.
It is clear that we are living in a different context in which the West no longer exercises the same major influence. This challenge may very well reopen the debate on the commonly-made assertion that the Union holds a unique trump card: a range of civil and military resources, the potential for an integrated approach, the unique strength that stems from the combination of “Hard” and “Soft Power”, the so-called “Smart Power” which many other partners are envious of.
It is difficult to make any predictions about the future balance of power in the world. A lot will hinge on the strategy and hunger for power of the key players. Are we moving towards a G2, an alliance between the United States and China? And what about countries like India and a number of South-American or African States, who are all clambering for a more prominent place on the international stage, be it for themselves or for a larger group of developing countries. Should we expect profound shifts in the multilateral structure as a result of these developments? The initial steps have indeed already been taken with the talks on the reform of the IMF and the UN Security Council, but the outcome of these talks is still very much uncertain.
Fact is that the European Union will have to do all it can to ensure that it will continue to play an important role on the world stage in the future. After all, the EU can simply not afford to stay on the sideline in times of international crises or when the important challenges of our times, like for instance the issue of climate change, the fight against the worldwide economic crisis, important political dossiers such as Iran, the peace process in the Middle East, etc. are being debated. And it is the Lisbon Treaty that gives us the necessary tools for this.
These indications about possible shifts in the global balance of power may not make us forget what Europe represents and what Europe has managed to achieve over the last number of decades. Just to remind you:
• Nowhere on this planet can we find such an economically and politically integrated area, based on common values, rights and obligations, which manages to preserve such diversity of cultures, languages and traditions.
• The EU is the largest exporter of goods and services in the world while being the main export market for more than 100 countries at the same time. The 27 EU member States share a unified internal market and pursue a common commercial policy.
• Within the framework of the European Security and Defence Policy, the EU set up more than 20 missions across 4 continents and deployed well over 70,000 men and women.
• More than half of the financial resources for the developing countries come from the EU and its Member States.
These achievements cannot be reversed. Regardless of any new global power blocks that may emerge, our partners in the West and beyond will continue to expect an active involvement from the EU on the international scene. If the Israelis and Palestinians eventually sign a firm peace agreement, eyes will turn towards the EU to ensure its implementation. If we want to bring the Doha Development Round to a successful conclusion, the Union, which is responsible for about 1/5 of the world’s imports and exports, will have to be part of it.
But what role is there for Belgium in all of this? I feel that Belgium, as one of the founding fathers of the EU, as host country to the most important European institutions and as the cross-roads of so many ideologies, cultures and language communities will have to assume the role of ‘honest broker’ during its presidency of the EU. This does not in any way mean that we should renounce our own principles, but that we should use our feeling for political compromise to act as mediator. For that reason, we should avoid pushing our own agenda, which is something some of the other countries have from time to time been guilty of.
As regards the EU’s external policy, I did state earlier that the presidency will no longer have the influence it had before the Lisbon Treaty came into effect. But this new situation should not stop us from keeping the spotlight on countries and themes Belgium has gained expertise and has a particular interest in. I think in particular about Central Africa of course. Many partner countries expect Belgium to make a special contribution to this dossier. The normalization of our relationship with Kinshasa is and remains an important fact because it facilitates concrete dialogue between Belgium and this country and constitutes the basis for Belgium’s mediatory function at European and world level.
All the above relates to what we actually can foresee. Each presidency draws up a detailed calendar with summits, councils and numerous meetings and conferences and hopes that this calendar will be adhered to as best as possible. But in reality, almost every EU Presidency finds itself having to deal with a number of unexpected events. There was the 9/11 catastrophe during Belgium’s previous EU Presidency, the Netherlands and Luxembourg had to cope with the consequences of the Asian tsunami and the French Presidency saw the eruption of the crisis in Georgia.
It goes without saying that situations like that call for immense flexibility but also for a proper understanding between the various actors within the EU itself. At European level, we are not Einzelgänger, but team players. We shall do our utmost to actively coordinate and confer with our most important partners, including, of course, with the existing and new European institutional actors and, within our own country, with our own federal and regional governments.
As you can tell, we still have a long way to go. But I am really looking forward to it, because, as I said a few minutes ago, this is a highly fascinating and important period for Europe. If Belgium can make a small contribution (we’re noted for our modesty) to the enhanced functioning of the European Union, both in terms of the internal and the external aspects, I shall end the year 2010 on 31 December as a tired but happy Minister for Foreign Affairs.
But you may ask yourself: what does this have to do with me? Do I have a role to play in this? The answer to that question is: yes, of course! What you are all doing here today, coming from various countries to Brussels to meet and discuss with other young people is crucial to create a sense of common understanding between Europeans. The EU is not only about high level politics, summit meetings and treaties. The EU is and should be about bringing people together to get to know one another and to share experiences and ideas in order to bridge differences that might exist between them. That is why EU programs like for instance the Erasmus exchange program for higher education are so important. And if this winter university has contributed to this exchange, which I am sure it has, then it has achieved its goal perfectly.
Only spoken word prevails