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A look ahead at the Belgian Presidency and the EU Commission’s agenda

“Delivering today and preparing for tomorrow” is what will guide the European Commission in 2024.  So how does this match the priorities of the upcoming Belgian Presidency?

“Against the backdrop of unprecedented geopolitical, economic, societal and technological challenges, ensuring the EU’s competitiveness and economic security is of utmost priority”, stated Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her last State of the Union. But how does this translate into concrete policy initiatives? And what will the Belgians put on the Presidency agenda in the first half of 2024, in the middle of National (federal and regional) and European election campaigns in June and the shadows being cast by local and provincial elections in October 2024?

Although 2024 will be a transition year, it will be a crucial one for the upcoming European agenda.  Whilst the current Von der Leyen Commission is still trying to define its legacy and finish some important pending files, many of the Commissioners are already keeping half an eye open for a new job, knowing it is very unlikely they will return for the next five years.  The uncertain outcome of the European elections and several upcoming national elections could also change the power dynamics in Brussels and the priorities of the next European Parliament and Commission could shift significantly.  At the same time all political parties in Belgium are gearing up for a grueling year of election campaigning, which could also see significant political power shifts with a continuing decline of the traditional centrist parties and a large upswing of support for populist and extreme parties.

The EU Commission work programme for 2024 tries to frame the achievements of the past four years, and outlines the Commission’s files still on its agenda and the last new proposals it wants to launch still in the coming months.

The EU Commission and the Belgian Presidency both want to focus strongly on preparing the EU for a next round of enlargement talks.  Although no consensus has been reached yet on the exact date for a next wave of Member States joining, all the preparations are being done to at least start with the process and negotiations in the coming year.

In the light of growing tensions and geopolitical upheaval, the EU Commission will roll out the European defence industrial strategy, including legislative and non-legislative initiatives, to give further impulse to developing Member States’ defence capabilities, underpinned by a modern and resilient European defence technological and industrial base.

The Belgian Presidency will also try to reach consensus on the Ukraine Facility, a fund which should finance the long term reconstruction of the country after the end of the conflict.

Also the Regulation on secure and sustainable supply of critical raw materials, which should be finalized under the Belgian Presidency is very much an answer to current geopolitical concerns.

The work programme also  focuses on further simplifying rules for citizens and businesses and reducing administrative burdens. No less than 26 additional rationalisation proposals are put forward (without compromising social, safety, consumer protection, environmental or economic standards). In addition to the call for evidence  on burdensome reporting requirements  launched on October 17th, further consultations with companies, Member States’ experts and other stakeholders will be carried out to identify particularly problematic issues and areas to prioritise.

The EU Commission’s endeavor to strengthen Europe’s economy is also reflected in the pillar ‘An Economy that Works for People’, in which the EU Commission will focus on challenges related to labour and skill shortages, education, social dialogue, inflation and ease of doing business.

To make Europe fit for the Digital Age the AI liability Directive and Regulation laying down harmonized rules on AI still remain on the list of files to close and new initiatives will be launched around EU Space Law and a Strategy on space data economy.  Also the Regulation on horizontal cybersecurity requirements for products with digital elements is on the agenda.

Obviously, the European Green Deal remains high on the agenda with most implementing and non-legislative initiatives such as on the 2040 climate target and water resilience planned in the 1st quarter of 2024.  The Commission also mentions the following files on which progress should be made:

  • ETS and CBAM, also as a potential source of own resources
  • Greenhouse gas emissions of transport services,
  • Net Zero Industry Act,
  • Packaging and Waste: Waste Directive, Regulation on Packaging and Packaging Waste, Directive on Waste electrical and electronic equipment, Regulation on Shipment of Waste
  • Green Claims Directive
  • Repair of Goods, liability for defective products

In the field of biotechnology and plant protection, following files could be particularly impactful: Regulation on plant reproductive material, Regulation on plants obtained by new genomic techniques, Regulation on microplastic pollution, Regulation on the sustainable use of plant protection products.

With the Wind Power Package the EU Commission aims to accelerate the deployment of wind turbines, improve access to finance and support the international competitiveness of European industry.  Also on the agenda for the Belgian Presidency and the Commission will be the finalising of the Gas Package, important for the development of hydrogen and other renewable and natural gases and the framework for taxation of  energy products and electricity.

The Belgian Presidency will also offer the outgoing Belgian governments the opportunity to grab some media attention in the middle of (re-) election campaigns.  The different coalition governments are dragging their feet to the finish, so it should not be excluded that some Belgian ministers will use the opportunity to profile themselves internally by launching “popular” ideas for discussion during the presidency.  Informal Council meetings (such as the EPSCO in April or the ECOFIN in February) are to be monitored closely in that respect because they might be agenda-setting venues for future policy areas (2024-2029).  Given the current ambition of the European Commission to take the lead in the discussion on Behavioural Taxes, this is certainly an area where companies, in particular in the sectors of processed foods, alcohol, sugary drinks, tobacco and tobacco alternatives, should keep a close eye out for possible new developments over the coming year.

Stefanie Pollet, October 2023

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