The fact that Belgian will hold the rotating presidency of the Council is neither here nor there. The processes of the Council will continue with or without the Belgians to direct and guide it. Meetings will be held, proposals will be proposed and actions will be taken. After all, to a certain extent that was the point of the Lisbon Treaty introducing a permanent President which, today by some happy chance is the world famous Belgian Herman van Rompuy.
However this very fact highlights something that we should all be very aware of. The European Union no longer needs the nation states, the 'Member' States as it calls them, to operate. It has gone beyond that.
So the window dressing of the rotating presidency will, in the light of the Belgian presidency been seen to be, and finally recognised as a fiction. Oh the host nation will be able to pontificate about subjects close to its heart but as before the program is worked out earlier, out of democracy's way, and petty issues such as accountability are kept firmly in the sidelines.
- review the Lisbon Strategy so that the EU is better prepared to overcome the economic crisis, restore sustainable growth, a higher rate of employment and better competitiveness.
- better monitoring of the financial markets.
- broaden the social agenda and focus it on young people, on combating gender
discrimination and fighting poverty.
- press forward on energy and climate change.
- make the EU a space for ever greater freedom, safety and justice (Stockholm programme).
- set up a global European policy for immigration and asylum.
- set up a more consistent, effective external EU representation.
- place the emphasis on the defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
And do the Belgians mind? Not a bit of it, listen to the sanguine words of their departing Europe Minister, Olivier Chastel. He is not leaving anything chance at all, the fact that he and his type were soundly beaten (his Walloon party MR last 5 seats and 20% of their vote last week) is irrelevant.
"When the Belgian government tendered its resignation, we had a lot of fears about the preparation of this presidency," said Chastel. "But very quickly, we realised […] that we were well advanced on the preparation" and that a caretaker government "would not fundamentally change things"...He goes on in much the same vein.
The programme will be approved on 16 June, just after the elections, and all parties "will have to work with it," he said.
He said this means the Belgian Presidency will take a back seat role to EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and EU President Herman Van Rompuy.Of course what the Belgians are doing here has ramifications for everyone. They are not giving up power for themselves, they are giving up power for all 27. After all once power moves to the EU institutions it never goes back. The Sovereignty ratchet works in only one direction. Once lost, the power of the rotating presidency to set an agenda is lost for good.
"Both will have full responsibility for their entire field of competence," he said, adding that the Belgian presidency will not step aside but will implement "the Lisbon Treaty, all the Lisbon Treaty and nothing but the Lisbon Treaty".
On the foreign policy front, he made clear that the Belgian foreign affairs ministry and diplomacy "will be at [Ashton's] disposal – and I said at her disposal – to do everything she considers the rotating presidency should do.
And not the opposite, not on an equal footing," he insisted.
In other words, "those who have a tradition for putting themselves forward: the head of state, in our case the prime minister and the foreign affairs minister," will be less
visible, he said.