Starting over

The programmatic priorities of President Leterme

His situation is uncomfortable, yet he is not discouraged. Belgian premier Yves Leterme, on July 1st was appointed EU Council president-in -office. He admits that he has been a “provisional” prime minister. Indeed, after June’s legislative elections negotiations have been under way in Belgium for a new government coalition that will include the two winning parties, the Flemish independentists and Walloon socialists. Over the next months someone else will take the lead in his place. In the meantime, President Leterme presents his program and his clear vision of Europe (although his past positions weren’t all coherent) highlighting the urgent need to get Europe on the go.” This is all the more necessary since the rest of the world is not waiting for us. We are witnessing rapid transformations in all fields. New centres of power emerge, both in the Western world and in the developing countries”. There’s no going back, he said. Priority and promises. Today more than ever before EU27 future developments repose on the country of good chocolate and beer (a drink that recurs more than once in the premier’s speeches), and one of the European Community’s founding States. Indeed, a Belgian statesman and former Premier, Herman van Rompuy, holds the “stable” presidency of the Council. Leterme has already had several opportunities to present the programmatic priorities of this semester while this week he went to Strasbourg to present them to MEPs. There are four “concrete commitments” and two pre-eminently political and institutional questions focusing on corresponding “challenges”. But Lenterne points out: “The negotiations on the formation of a new coalition will take some time. I’d like to assure you that this will not at all impair the vigour and enthusiasm of our presidency”. Several MEPs conveyed their reservations: how can such a small and internally divided State with evident home government difficulties, act as the guide of the large Union? Some of them even went so far as to picture a lack of stable coalition by 2010. But for Yves Leterme these are just hypotheses. Economy, social cohesion. The European Union Council “rotating” president listed his presidency’s key-targets, which include “sustainable economic growth”, “social cohesion and employment”, “environmental protection and climate change”, the need for the Union to become “an area of justice, security and freedom”. He thus adds remarks on foreign policy and the promise to “implement the Lisbon Treaty”, and make it “a driving force” to strengthen the EU and its performance. Leterme however doesn’t only list the issues but adds a series of proposals to be assumed in conjunction with Commission and Parliament. Speaking off the cuff, the premier voiced his concern and his interest for economic issues. He delved into the provisions being defined on financial surveillance, on the health status of public budget (Belgium is not an example to be imitated…), on “economic policies coordination that must be conveyed by means of shared governance”. And added: “We ought to re-establish annual growth of at least 2%. Since growth isn’t just a question of statistics, it involves individuals, employment, social cohesion, fighting poverty”. Free speech. President Leterme presented a clear-cut analysis, which covers all themes. The rotating presidency has lost its importance since the Lisbon Treaty created the figure of the “stable” presidency. However, there is significant space for manoeuvre in drawing up the agenda of ministerial meetings, which constitute a fundamental decisional realm for community legislation. Leterme continues: “I wish to say something about the industry”. Go ahead. “Countries with a strong industrial foundation withstood the crisis better than more service-oriented economies”. Hence the proposal to “support manufacturing sectors, notably small and medium enterprises. We must focus on industry innovation and research. The United States and China are faster when it comes to transforming researching findings into industrial output”. In his impromptu speech Leterme mentions environmental protection (“- a planet which does not belong to us, but which we are borrowing from our children”), monitoring migration flows, combating terrorism, EU diplomatic service, to end human rights violation “with a special attention for the violence against women”. He flinches on Turkey, while recalling that Africa is expecting an extended hand from Europe. He concludes: “Belgium has always favoured the ‘community method’. Now we need more Europe”. It’s time to pass from facts to words.

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