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Belgium: priorities and difficulties

brussels bureau

Belgium: priorities and difficulties


Christelle Pétrongari, euronews: With us now is Belgium’s Minister for Climate and Energy, Paul Magnette: thanks for accepting this interview. You’re in charge of current affairs, a new government is in the making, the country is divided and so, obviously, there are questions surrounding your country’s credibility in leading European policy-making in the next six months.

Paul Magnette, Belgian Minister for Climate and Energy: These doubts are understandable, but I think everyone can rest assured that the Belgian presidency is very well prepared. We’ve been working on this for more than a year and a half — even two and a half years, since the work involved the presidency troika with Spain and Hungary. We’ve prepared the programme of each of the ministries. Diplomacy and the public service are in a high state of readiness. At last week’s meetings with the parliamentary groups they told us how impressed they were at the degree of serious preparation in the Belgian presidency. So, you can rest assured.

euronews: One of the priorities — ambitions — of the Belgian presidency is to make a European economic government real. How do you count on doing that?

Paul Magnette: First of all by supporting Herman Van Rompuy, since we’re living under the rules of the new Lisbon Treaty, with a permanent president of the European Council, which Belgium wasn’t fully in favour of when the treaty was being negotiated, but since it’s here, we believe this function has to be given life, and the rules have to be respected. We’ll back it all the way. And that’s a decision that was taken well before the government’s current situation: the role that Herman Van Rompuy can play in helping to rationalise the rules and act in such a way that instead of a simple little coordination between budget policies, mutual monitoring and a form of multilateral surveillance. That isn’t working well enough today — as we saw with the Greek crisis. We need real structural convergence of our economic and social policies.

euronews: As the minister for climate and energy, you’ve talked about an exemplary presidency in the sustainable development domain, meaning what?

Paul Magnette: It means that we’ll be taking care with all the events we organise — because a presidency is, after all, a very big event; it’s not the Olympics, it’s not the World Cup, but it is important. It entails a lot of trips and meetings, printing a lot of documents. Right from the start, long before the beginning of the presidency, we took strict specifications into account to limit all forms of pollution and waste of natural resources to make this presidency a sustainable one.

euronews: Can you give us some examples?

Paul Magnette: Well, it’s right across the board: it applies as much to the pens and paper given out at meetings as to ways of getting around and concentrating meetings close to others to avoid useless travel. All this was calculated to reduce the Belgian presidency’s carbon footprint.

euronews: The European Commission has just nailed Belgium over its waste water treatment. Your country even has to go before the European Court of Justice. You can’t really say you’re setting the example.

Paul Magnette: No, it’s true that there are areas where we could do better. We know that the waste water matter has been a difficult one for several years, it’s nothing new. We have a very high population density, which partly explains the trouble we’ve encountered. We know there are still improvements to be made there, but every member state can be nailed for some difficulty or another. That doesn’t have to undermine the whole credibility of the presidency.

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