Belgium – a Federal State par excellence?

, by Christian Dick, translated by Francesco Santini

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Belgium – a Federal State par excellence?

On the eve of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, an event took place on June 29th at the Representation of Baden-Württemberg in Brussels. Central topics of the event were the future prospects of the Belgian Presidency of the Council, the consequences of the current uncertain situation of the Belgian government on its Presidency of the Council and the role model of Belgian federalism for Europe.

The following guests were present at the event: Baden-Württemberg’s Minister for European Affairs Professor Dr. Wolfgang Reinhart, the Minister-President of the Government of the German-speaking Community of Belgium Karl-Heinz Lambertz, the General Representative of the Flemish government to the EU Axel Buyse and the Member of European Parliament Markus Feber(CSU).

Strong Regions and a Strong Europe in Times of Crisis

Professor Dr. Wolfgang Reinhart emphasised the vital importance of regions in Europe and praised the strong European commitment of the Belgian regions. He observed that the Region Flanders is an associated member of the comprehensive region partnership “Four Engines for Europe”, which is composed of Baden-Württemberg, the French region Rhône-Alpes, Lombardy (Italy) and the Spanish region of Catalonia. According to Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Reinhart, Baden-Württemberg is the most important region in Europe for innovation. He thus believes that it is the key region for the future of Europe. The Europe 2020 strategy is important because it stands for a solution for the EU’s competition with the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

According to Baden-Württemberg’s Minister for European Affairs, the focus of the Belgian Presidency is on research and infrastructure. He believes that in the future there will be two important issues. First, the completion of the internal market based on the Monti report. Secondly, the results of the Task Force under the direction of the President of the European Council, Herman von Rompuy. Professor Dr. Wolfgang Reinhart pointed out that Europe has always pushed forward and stood strong when crises have occurred.

Axel Buyse said that the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy for intelligent, sustainable and inclusive growth is the primary interest of the region Flanders with regard to the Belgian Presidency.

Europe has always pushed forward and stood strong when crises have occurred

Belgium – a Federal State par Excellence

Karl-Heinz Lambertz seemed to be very confident that the current crisis of the government in Belgium will not burden the Belgian EU Presidency of the Council in any way. He noted that the country chairing the Council has to hold back its own political ambitions and instead let modesty prevail. He said that the Minister-President of a rotating Presidency should never put the permanent President of the European Council in the shadows. In this respect Belgium would like to write European history.

Moreover, he highlighted the exemplary Belgian federalism, which, according to him, is comparable with the structures at the European level. This is well reflected in the respective specialised councils of ministers which, during the council’s presidency, are led by ministers from the Belgian regions Flanders, Flamen, Wallony, Brussels and the German speaking communities. Lambertz added that the EU Presidency of the Council was jointly prepared by the regions and the Belgian federal government.

Invigorating the European External Policy

Markus Ferber explains that a EU Council Presidency inherits several things and dossiers from the previous one. These things and dossiers must then be implemented. According to him a very important point is the Stability and Growth Pact. The package overseeing the financial market hasn’t been finished completely under the past Spanish Presidency. He believes that the topic of a tax for the transactions of the financial market will play a very important role during the Belgian EU Council Presidency. Ferber also noticed that at the beginning of the Europe 2020 strategy the goals need to be formulated so that they can be achieved at national levels as well.

In conclusion he affirms that the European External Policy finally has to be invigorated. About the current problems of the creation of a Belgian government with possible consequences on the EU Council Presidency, Ferber brings up his personal experience. When he was elected at the European Parliament in 1994, Germany held the Presidency of the EU Council. Everybody said: “How can it end well?”. But Europe did not go down. Also during the Czech EU Council Presidency there was a government reshuffle but it did not cause problems for the EU.

Image: Markus Ferber, MEP (left) and Professor Dr. Wolfgang Reinhart, Baden-Württemberg’s Minister for European Affairs (right)


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