Brussels, January 10, 2024 – As 2024 kicks off, so too does the new presidency of the Council of the European Union. From January to June 2023, Belgium will take reigns of the body, designed to negotiate and discuss legislation with member states. This position means that for the next six months, Belgium will steer the Council’s operations to get goals across the line. Here’s a quick explainer of the Council presidency process, and the presidency’s key priorities for business, entrepreneurship and inclusion.
What is the Council Presidency?
Every six months, the presidency of the Council is passed from one member state to another. During its presidency, the country acts to chair meetings and shape legislation, acting as a broker to drive deals during their time as head of the Council.
For greater efficiency in long-term planning, Council presidencies work in trios, with overarching goals shared by three teamed-up countries to allow for long-term goals to be reached. After Spain wrapped up its presidency at the end of 2023, Belgium will take over for the next six months before handing over to Hungary by the middle of the year, which will wrap up the current trio.
The Council of the EU comprises national government ministers from member states, who meet regularly to work together in policy areas from foreign policy to budget. Holding equal status as co-legislator with the European Parliament, the two bodies make joint decisions on laws and legislation
Strengthening European SMEs
The Belgian Presidency has promised to mainstream the interests of European SMEs through its policymaking. This will involve taking stock of the implementation of the EU’s SME strategy, including the SME relief package, which was announced in September 2023 including measures to address the needs of European SMEs facing challenges in the current economic climate.
The presidency will focus particularly on the revision of the Late Payment Directive. While the directive was first adopted in 2011 to protect SMEs against the negative effects of late payments, more than 60% of businesses in the EU still report not being paid on time.
The directive is undergoing revision to greater fit the needs and requirements of SMEs, including a stricter maximum payment limit of 30 days and automatic payment of accrued interest and compensation fees against bad payers.
This directive will save SMEs from disrupted cash flows, lost jobs, and bankruptcy, especially in areas of cross-border trade, relieving financial and administrative burdens.
Increasing Competitiveness and Skills
The Belgian presidency will also focus on increasing European competitiveness through long-term policies, allowing SMEs greater ability to do business within Europe and internationally. To do this, the presidency will focus on lobbying for a coherent, predictable and simplified regulatory framework to help Europe’s businesses compete on the global stage.
Skills are also high on the agenda. Following on from the European Year of Skills, the Presidency will host the OECD Skills Summit. Held on the 21st and 22nd of February 2024, ministers and officials from the 38 OECD member countries meet to discuss the topic of “skills for the future”.
This comes at a time when SMEs across Europe report chronic labour and skills shortages.
Social Rights and Inclusion
Finally, the presidency will commit to consolidating the European Pillar of Social Rights as one of its key priorities, pushing forward the agenda for a more inclusive and fair European society.
With plans to sign an interinstitutional Declaration to be signed at La Hulpe during a high-level conference on the 15th and 16th of April, this will support the promotion of equal opportunity, gender equality and non-discrimination in employment across Europe.
With European Elections in June 2024, we must further strengthen social rights by prioritising inclusive entrepreneurship. UNITEE’s upcoming manifesto will call for a European Agenda for Inclusive Entrepreneurship to create an inclusive entrepreneurship environment, empower migrant entrepreneurs, and boost economic strength through diversity.
The EU must create a labour environment that welcomes and supports diverse entrepreneurial talent, aiming to tackle not only the labour shortage but also the inclusion gaps prevalent across European societies.
Cultural Events and Citizen Involvement
Aside from high-level summits and conferences, there will also be a programme of events both cultural and political for those who reside in Belgium.
64 cultural events from exhibitions, literary projects, festivals, activities in the public space, concerts, shows, theatre productions and film screenings will take place across Belgium.
Belgium, a pioneer of deliberative democracy, will also be holding a citizen’s panel in Brussels and decentralised citizen events hosted by different Belgian cities, aimed at getting more people involved in debates on the EU and its future.