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Opinion: Weak Belgian EU presidency ahead

Belgium will on Thursday take over the rotating EU presidency, but the country still seems locked in political turmoil. But DW's Susanne Henn says at least one Belgian will play a major role on the European stage.

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Belgium's weakness is a consequence of the Lisbon Treaty

If the holders of the rotating EU presidency hadn't already seen their position weakened, then Belgium would have seen to it. Yves Leterme might actually be relieved that the role of the rotating presidency has been diminished through the Lisbon Treaty - after all, he's got more than enough things to worry about back home.

After the Belgian government collapsed, snap elections have been held but no new government has been formed yet. So Leterme is a only caretaker Prime Minister waiting to be replaced.

Yves Leterme did his best to reassure the public that the Belgian presidency will go ahead smoothly. He promised to focus on the economic crisis, tighter regulations for financial markets, climate protection and the implementation of a new European External Action Service by the end of the year.

Susanne Henn

Susanne Henn

But he finds himself faced with the question of whether Belgium has enough credibility for the job. Can such a politically-divided country stand at the helm of the EU?

The rift between Flanders in the north and Walloons in the south has been growing and recent elections have seen alarming support for political forces that actually want to see the country break up.

More power for Van Rompuy

Leterme's answer to such concerns is his repeated claim that continuity would be guaranteed under Belgian leadership.

It is the 12th time that founding member Belgium will have taken on the presidency since 1958. The country was in a similar situation in 1987 when no new government had yet been formed after a parliamentary election.

But the importance and influence of the rotating presidency has faded over the last years. The European parliament is getting more and more sway over new legislation so that Belgium will have little room to make a mark.

But following the power shift from the rotating presidency to the newly created post of President of the EU, there is another Belgian who'll be in charge. It will be Herman van Rompuy who will be in charge of the crucially important tasks in the EU and chairing the summits.

Just like Leterme he is a conservative from the country's Christian Democrats and was himself once Belgian president. His good negotiating hand between the country's north and south is what many say is lacking from the country's current political elite.

Should Belgium indeed deliver a poor performance over the next six months, neither Van Rompuy nor Leterme will be all too worried. It would be in line with intended developments prescribed in the Lisbon Treaty. Eventually, the rotating presidency will be only cover administrative charges, rather than getting involved in EU politics.

Susanne Henn is a Deutsche Welle correspondent in Brussels
Editor: Rob Turner

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