Vos, Hendrik and Bailleul, Emilie (2002) The Belgian Presidency and the post-Nice process after Laeken. ZEI Discussion Papers: 2002, C 102. [Discussion Paper]
[Introduction]. When the Belgian Presidency of the European Union set off on 1 July 2001, expectations ran high. The Belgian Presidency was expected to put the European train back on the rails, since the European integration process was clearly in a slump. Various factors have contributed to this general malaise about the way Europe was run. To begin with, the Nice summit had aroused mixed feelings. Although the Treaty of Nice prepared the Union for enlargement mathematically – agreements on vote weighting in the Council, the number of members of the European Parliament etc. – many people seriously doubted whether a Europe consisting of 27 or 28 member states would be able to operate effectively. More in general, some people wonder whether a larger Europe will not automatically become a ‘watered down’ Europe. Several other factors have contributed to this scepticism. The European elections of 1999 were far from a success in terms of turnout, whilst public opinion expressed its negative attitude towards the European project in two referendums during the first half of 2001: the Danes said ‘nej’ to the euro and the Irish said ‘no’ to the Treaty of Nice. In addition, the Swedish Presidency ended in a minor key in June 2001: in spite of the ambitions of the Göteborg summit, where sustainable development was to be placed high on the European agenda, only the violent street protest actions will be remembered. Once it had become clear that the negotiations in Nice were not going to cause a dramatic change in attitude, Belgium’s prime minister Guy Verhofstadt suggested that the Belgian Presidency should be concluded with a ‘Declaration of Laeken’ that was to give the debate on the future of Europe a new impetus. The Belgian Presidency therefore came at a crucial moment for the Union: on the one hand, Europe was generally held in low esteem, but on the other hand, a debate on Europe’s future might change this negative attitude and rekindle enthusiasm through an ambitious project. And the Belgian Presidency was ambitious. This appeared during the presentation of the Belgian ‘priority programme’: on 2 May, when the Swedish Presidency was still in full swing, the Belgian prime minister presented a programme containing sixteen priorities. The present paper examines the outcome of the Belgian presidency and how it (possibly) helped to shape the future of Europe. The first part briefly describes the general context of the presidency, covering the tasks of the presiding member state and the potential influence of the presidency on the European agenda. The second part assesses the performance of the Belgian Presidency and evaluates the extent to which the Belgian priorities were achieved in various areas. An evaluation of the achievements of the Union in a wide range of areas can identify future needs and challenges. Some of these issues were integrated into the Declaration of Laeken in one form or another. We will next examine the Declaration of Laeken and the debate on the future of Europe in greater detail. The final part of this paper describes the agenda after Laeken.
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