Belgium’s Council Presidency: MEPs debate with Prime Minister De Croo 

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Prime Minister de Croo emphasised how the upcoming year will be a crucial one for the Union © European Union, 2024 - EP  

On Tuesday, MEPs discussed the programme of Belgium’s six-month Council Presidency, which started on 1 January, with Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

EP President Roberta Metsola said that Parliament is ready to deliver on citizens’ expectations ahead of the 6-9 June European elections, to make Europe fairer, more competitive and fit for the digital age.

“2024 will be a crucial year, where our democracies and liberties will be put to the test”, said Alexander De Croo, referring to the European, but also the US presidential elections: “If 2024 brings us ‘America first’ again, it will be more than ever ‘Europe on its own’”. Mr De Croo urged MEPs to maintain solidarity with Ukraine and continued military support, highlighting the existential nature of the cause for Europeans.

Alexander De Croo also called for European capital markets to be opened up to boost innovation, and for an Industrial Deal alongside the Green Deal. “The climate policies of China and the US contain an abundance of carrots for their industry. While we, here in Europe, all too often grab for the stick”, he said.

On migration, Prime Minister de Croo said that upholding a more coordinated and integrated foreign policy approach is part of the solution. To that end, he called for broad partnerships with third countries to help them become more stable.

The Belgian Prime Minister also said that the EU has to do everything it can to put an end to the suffering in Israel and Palestine. He called for more safe and open humanitarian corridors to be opened in Gaza. The EU must support Israel in freeing their hostages and must help the country in its legitimate battle against the terrorist organisation of Hamas.

On behalf of the Commission, Executive Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič stressed that the June European elections will help shape the future of the Union, and that ongoing work on key legislative files in the area of competitiveness, economic governance and the green transition must stay on track. He recalled that the Commission would assess the 2040 climate target in February and present a strategy on how to protect Europe more effectively against the impact of climate change in March. Unprecedented support for Ukraine and a long-term solution in the Middle East will remain EU priorities in the upcoming months, Maroš Šefčovič concluded.

Speakers from political groups

Speaking in the name of their respective political groups, Benoît Lutgen (EPP, BE) regretted that the Belgian Prime Minister did not mention farmers, and did not try to reassure and protect the European population. Iratxe García Pérez (S&D, ES) called for the European Pillar of Social Rights to contain social rights such as the minimum wage, fair pay, and good working conditions, and called upon the Belgian presidency to respect the provisional agreement on the Platform Work Directive.

Hilde Vautmans (Renew, BE) called for a deepening of the EU before the next enlargement. Decisions should no longer be made by unanimity, and a European army and an EU Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be created, she stressed. Philippe Lamberts (Greens/EFA, BE) said that no pause should be taken in the fight against climate change, which should be accelerated instead.

Geert Bourgeois (ECR, BE) welcomed the proposal for an industrial deal and called for more funds for innovation, security, and the green and digital transitions as well as less red tape for businesses. Gerolf Annemans (ID, BE) said that the Belgian Presidency is "bad news" as it will be "pursuing a federalist agenda at the European level, until the European elections, which will put an end to this left-green government of Europe". Marc Botenga (The Left, BE) warned against the return of strict budgetary rules, which would lead, he said, to further cuts in an already "catastrophic social situation".