Belgium is currently managed by a caretaker administration and is wrought by political division. Yet on Thursday it assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union.
Belgium takes over the EU's rotating presidency
A new Belgian government may not take office for months, but until it does, Prime Minister Yves Leterme will head the country's caretaker government as his nation takes on the rotating EU presidency for six months, beginning July 1.
"I am absolutely convinced that Belgium, which has always been at the centre of the European Union, will remain there," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said last week. "Even after the Presidency period, I am fully confident that Belgium has strong European belief. "
"It will be a very pro-European presidency," Peter Becker, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) told Deutsche Welle.
As a founding member of the EU, Belgium has held the presidency 12 times already, and Becker said it was not at all a problem that the rotating residency would be headed by a temporary government.
Leterme has dismissed any concern about Belgium's commitment to the EU presidency program, which he said enjoyed wide cross-party support.
Prime Minister Leterme is confident: "Belgium is prepared."
His country's role as EU chair would be "more limited than in the past" anyway, Leterme said.
The EU's Lisbon Treaty has created a new institutional structure, a double presidency that makes the role of the revolving Presidency less political and more administrative.
Belgium's goals for the next six months include passing new rules on hedge funds, the creation of new finance industry watchdogs, and an agreement on better economic cooperation across the EU.
But top-level decisions are left to summits chaired by the EU's new full-time president Herman Van Rompuy. The former Belgian prime minister is expected to work closely with Belgium's interim government in ensuring the presidency's goals are met, particularly when it comes to 'economic governance,' a term that refers to EU governments working more closely on coordinating policies.
Belgium takes over from Spain, which worked within a difficult framework, said Becker. Spain's six months at the helm were largely overshadowed by the fallout from Greece's debt crisis, and the financial and economic crisis of the euro.
The SWP researcher said he believed Belgium would handle its presidency better than Spain because they didn't have the problem of expectations. "Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero expected to be the face of the EU, but this is not what the Belgians expect," he said.
Author: Dagmar Breitenbach
Editor: Rob Turner