Achievements of the presidency
EU budget for 2011
The Belgian presidency brokered an agreement on the European Union’s budget for 2011. MEPs accepted limiting the increase from the 2010 budget to 2.9%. In return, they received weak commitments from Yves Leterme, Belgium’s prime minister, on their role in negotiations about the multiannual financial framework that will apply after 2013.
National governments agreed stronger rules on economic governance with a strengthening of the stability and growth pact to make it harder to block decisions on sanctions and focus more on debt levels as well as the size of deficits. Countries will submit their national budgets to their EU partners for peer review. The reforms were prepared by a taskforce of the national finance ministers, chaired by Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president. Belgium’s was only a supportive role.
But it fell to Didier Reynders, Belgium’s finance minister, to broker a deal on the new system of financial market regulation including the creation of the European Systemic Risk Board and three strengthened EU regulators for supervision of banks, the securities market, insurance and pension products.
Reynders also secured agreement on regulating alternative investment funds such as hedge funds and private equity funds, bringing them under EU supervision for the first time. The deal was difficult because of the divergent positions of the UK, which is home to most EU-based hedge funds, and France, which wanted strict rules for funds based outside the EU.
European Citizens’ Initiative
Olivier Chastel, the secretary of state for European affairs, brokered a deal between MEPs and the Council of Ministers on the rules governing how citizens can ask the European Commission to propose legislation.
The presidency, represented by Chastel, obtained agreement on bringing the rules about implementing acts and delegated powers into line with the Lisbon treaty, resolving a tough battle over trade defence mechanisms which had divided member states.
Vincent Van Quickenborne, the minister for enterprise, put the issue of the EU patent on the agenda of four meetings of ministers responsible for competitiveness. He failed to convince Spain and Italy to support plans for a common patent regime for the EU though they were offered a series of concessions by the presidency. Under the Hungarian presidency, legislation will be prepared to allow most member states to go ahead without Spain and Italy.
Van Quickenborne brokered an agreement between the Council of Ministers and MEPs on late payments that will require public authorities to settle their bills within 30 days and private companies within 60 days. The rules are expected to provide a major boost to small and medium-sized businesses.
Steven Vanackere, Belgium’s foreign minister, oversaw the launch of accession negotiations with Iceland and closed eight chapters of negotiations with Croatia.
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Member states agreed to grant Montenegro candidate status at the EU leaders’ summit on 16-17 December.
Vanackere managed to get a free-trade agreement with South Korea approved, overcoming last-minute resistance from Italy. The presidency also won support for a special trade regime for Pakistan to help the country tackle the effect of devastating floods.
Climate and environment
Joke Schauvliege, the Flemish environment minister, represented the EU together with the European Commission at the Nagoya conference on biodiversity in November. With the Commission, she also represented the EU at the Cancún conference on climate change in December.
The Belgian government got a deal on the Eurovignette, a dossier that had been blocked for two years. Member states will be allowed to recover the cost of air and noise pollution from road freight traffic by imposing tolls on trucks.
The presidency also brokered agreements between the Council and the Parliament on the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic devices (the WEEE directive). There was also an initial agreement with the Council on the use of biocides.
Laurette Onkelinx, the health minister, got a deal between the Council and the Parliament on patients’ rights to treatment abroad and on a law to tackle counterfeit medicines.
Asylum and immigration
Melchior Wathelet, minister for asylum and immigration (as well as for the budget), convinced the Council and the Parliament to sign up to an agreement on the long-term residents’ directive, which sets out the rights of refugees to the same treatment as other premanent residents.
Other deals included coach and bus passengers’ rights, administrative collaboration on exchange of information to prevent tax evasion, and on cross-border enforcement of traffic fines.