Protect, Strengthen, Prepare

Wendy Sonneveld and Andries Verspeeten (members of the Ghent University CESAER Presidency Team and advisors to the CESAER Envoy to the Belgian Presidency Rik Van de Walle) reflect on the upcoming Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
14th December 2023
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The Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU will start on 1 January, following the Spanish Presidency.

In the first half of 2024, both European and Belgian federal and regional elections will take place. These three elections will significantly influence the agenda of the Presidency, causing a division into two distinct phases: one preceding and one following the elections. Before the elections, the focus of the Belgian Presidency will be on finalising all up-and-running trilogue negotiations between the three European Institutions. After the elections, the focus will shift on providing a contribution to the strategic agenda of the new College of Commissioners, set to be installed in the autumn.

Concerning research and innovation (R&I), the Belgian Presidency prioritises “the contribution of research and innovation as our foremost catalyst for achieving greater open strategic autonomy for Europe, while focusing on better valorisation of research results and reinforcing the role of research and innovation in society to overcome key industrial and societal challenges.” Nurturing the EU's Open strategic autonomy for space research activities – related to security, defence and climate change mitigation – and for responsible international cooperation, will run as a common thread through this R&I part of the presidency.

On the education side, the Belgian Presidency plans to “strengthen the European Education Area (EEA), enhance the quality of education, and promote lifelong learning. It aims to ease mobility for learners and educators across Europe and initiate discussions on the forthcoming higher education package. Digital education and teacher shortages will be addressed".

The Belgian Presidency programme, entitled ’Protect, Strengthen, Prepare’, specifically foresees that conclusions will be adopted by the Council of the EU addressing three main files:

· re-industrialising Europe and open strategic autonomy;

· the contribution to the re-industralisation efforts of a more integrated European Higher Education system in the context of the EEA;

· science diplomacy and citizen engagement.

We will also be looking forward to the launch by the European Commission of the Higher Education Package, including work on a blueprint for the European joint degree, a framework for quality assurance and recognition, as well as on academic careers, with adoption possibly due for a later presidency, depending on how fast the work can proceed. Indeed, as mentioned before, the elections makes this presidency a bit ‘peculiar’.

Both Councils, for Research and Innovation (23) and for Education (13) will convene formally in May. At the end of February, an informal meeting of the Education Ministers will already deal with the topic of degree mobility. These Council meetings will be chaired by French speaking Belgian Ministers following the Belgian interinstitutional agreement, whereby for each topic for which the federal state does not hold competency, the regions and communities of Belgium take turns in acting as chairs. Regardless of this, the colleagues on both sides of the language border cooperated in defining the common priorities. The Belgian state structure and its influence on the Belgian Presidency is explained in this presentation.

As advisors for the CESAER Envoy to the Belgian Presidency, our Rector and CESAER’s outgoing President Rik van de Walle, we invited the General Representative of Flanders in the Belgian Representation to the EU, Mr Matthias De Moor, to address the CESAER Board convening in Ghent on the 12 of December 2023 to elaborate further on the priorities of the Belgian Presidency from the Flemish reindustrialisation perspective. It offered an opportunity for inspiring discussions between Mr De Moor and our Directors.

With this handover Board meeting at Ghent University, our membership within the CESAER Presidency Team came to an end. Together with the third member of this team, Dieter De Bruyn, it was a pleasure to serve our Rector and by extension, the CESAER Secretariat and all CESAER members. It was a hard-working learning experience of four years, carried out with a lot of enthusiasm and much pleasure, also thanks to the support of many more colleagues in our institution. We will definitely miss it and joyfully look back on the close cooperation with the CESAER Secretariat colleagues. The role of the CESAER Envoy to the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU will allow us to remain in touch from time to time in 2024. We are looking forward to it. But that is for later. For now, we wish you a great Christmas time!

Photo credit: Christophe Vander Eecken

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