Belgium takes over the EU presidency with the motto 'Protect, strengthen, prepare'

This month, Belgium took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU with a promise to 'protect our people, strengthen our economy and prepare for our shared future'. Over the next six months, the country will lead work at all levels of the Council, building cooperation, agreement and solidarity between EU Member States.

This presidency is particularly noteworthy as it will steer discussions on the future of the EU and the European Council’s Strategic Agenda 2024–2029 at a time of global insecurity. The semester will also be impacted by the EU's institutional transition as the current mandates of the European Commission and Parliament draw to a close and the European Parliament holds elections in June.

The Belgian Presidency outlines six key priorities:

  • Defending the rule of law, democracy, and unity
  • Strengthening European competitiveness
  • Pursuing a green and just transition
  • Reinforcing social and health agendas
  • Protecting people and borders
  • Promoting a global Europe.

In the area of Justice and Home Affairs, the presidency will focus on the reform of the migration and asylum system as well as a resilient Schengen zone. It will also concentrate on intensifying the EU’s efforts to combat organised crime, terrorism and violent extremism.

In the field of drugs, Belgium now chairs the Council’s Horizontal Working Party on Drugs (HDG)(1), with six meetings scheduled with the EU Member States and EU institutions, and additional dialogues on drugs planned with international partners and civil society (including the United States, Brazil, the CELAC countries and the Civil Society Forum on Drugs).

The HDG will be presided over by Mr Kurt Doms, Head of the Drug Unit, Federal Public Service for Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment and by Steven Limbourg, Director for Criminal Law, Federal Public Service for Justice. The first HDG meeting of the year opens today.

During its presidency of the HDG, Belgium will prioritise the following themes:

  • European Ports Alliance: On 24 January, Belgium will host the launch of the European Ports Alliance as part of an informal meeting of interior affairs ministers. The alliance aims to engage private port and shipping companies from across the EU in the fight against drug trafficking. It is one of the priority actions of the EU roadmap to fight drug trafficking and organised crime.
  • Revision of, and discussion on, the EU minimum quality standards in drug demand reduction. The aim will be to review implementation, oversee good and bad practices,
    and consider further development.
  • Access to, and availability of, medicines: Here the focus will be on the needs of children.
    The presidency will table a UN Resolution on this topic at the 67th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (see below).

In addition to the HDG, Belgium will also lead the EU and its Member States at the upcoming UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (14–22 March 2024, Vienna). In May it will convene a meeting of the National Drug Coordinators (22–24 May, Ghent) on the subject of ‘Prison and drugs'.

This is the 13th time Belgium has held the EU Presidency, the last time being in 2010. It takes over from Spain, which reached agreements on major files, such as the Pact on Migration and Asylum and Artificial Intelligence Act. It will be succeeded by Hungary which will take up the presidency on 1 July 2024.