A presidency off to a flying start
With the new year’s festivities barely over, Belgium embarked on its six-month presidency of the Council of the EU with great fanfare. With five months to go before the federal, regional and European elections, Belgium has its work cut out for it.
The visit of the College of Commissioners
The first major event of the presidency took place on 5 January: the traditional visit of the College of EU Commissioners. The college was welcomed by the Belgian federal, regional and community ministers, who will be chairing the formal and informal Councils during the first half of 2024. A large number of informal Councils will be held at the Egmont Palace over the coming months.
The visit provided an opportunity for the European Commissioners and Belgian ministers to meet and coordinate their work programmes. Their discussions, in the form of thematic round tables, focused on the Belgian presidency’s legislative priorities, the strategic agenda for 2024-2029 and the Commission’s work programme.
Environment Minister Alain Maron represented the Brussels-Capital Region and took an active part in the round table dedicated to the environment and climate.
The opening evening
To round off the day’s exchanges with the European Commission, a musical performance took place in the prestigious Salle Henry Le Bœuf at Bozar, in the presence of H.M. King Philip and H.M. Queen Mathilde, the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the Council, Charles Michel, and several hundred Belgian and international personalities. Some two thousand spectators were treated to an original musical creation by Jef Neve, followed by a tribute to great Belgian artists and performances by guests of honour such as violinist Lorenzo Gatto and singers Selah Sue and Charlotte Adigéry. An orchestra made up of musicians from different parts of the country accompanied the evening, which was followed by a reception featuring Belgian products.
The presidency press trip makes a stop in Brussels
From 8 to 10 January, Belgium took some 70 journalists from media outlets from across Europe on a presidency press trip through Charleroi, Antwerp and, to finish on a high note, Brussels. The aim of the Brussels Region, which will lead on both environment and urban policy during the presidency, was to showcase its programme to revitalise former industrial districts by rehabilitating its heritage and making it a sustainable and enjoyable city.
The journalists were first welcomed to KANAL by the Minister-President, Rudi Vervoort, and the Secretary of State for International Relations, Ans Persoons. They presented the project to transform the former Citroën garage, located on the Place de l’Yser, into a major cultural centre due to open in 2025: a museum of modern and contemporary art, a centre for architecture and urban planning, and a space dedicated to temporary exhibitions and events.
They were then taken to Tour & Taxis through part of the Canal district, a former industrial area currently undergoing conversion, thanks in particular to significant investment from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
The crown jewel on the banks of the canal is undoubtedly the historic Tour & Taxis site, a vast industrial area dating from the early 20th century, made up of warehouses surrounding the ferry terminal housed in a vast hall.
Disused for a very long time, it has undergone major renovation to become an emblematic site for the capital and the city of the future, with a wide range of uses: offices, workshops, administration, shops, housing, public facilities and cultural spaces.
Before leaving Tour & Taxis, the journalists stopped off at the Brussels Environment building, the administration responsible for developing and implementing the region’s environmental and energy policy. The visit to the Brussels Environment building underscored the exemplary status of this highly energy-efficient building, which will play a key role during the Belgian presidency, when the Brussels-Capital Region and its Environment Minister, Alain Maron, will chair the Environment Councils.
Finally, the journalists rounded off their visit with lunch at the former Brussels Stock Exchange. This emblematic 19th-century building is located right in the heart of the city, in an area that changed drastically in 2015 when the main boulevards and surrounding streets were transformed into a pedestrian zone, the largest in Europe.
The building reopened to the public in September 2023, following a major renovation supported by the European Regional Development Fund and NextGenerationEU, Europe’s post-Covid 2020 recovery plan. It is now fully open to the public and houses a café, restaurant and beer museum.
Over lunch, Alain Hutchinson, Brussels Commissioner for Europe and International Organisations, former Secretary of State for Brussels and former Member of the European Parliament, emphasised the host nation policy and international position of Brussels, the beating heart of Europe.