Diverse reactions – ratification process should be continued

Generally speaking, most of the Belgian political, social and economic actors were deeply disappointed with the negative result of the referendum. However some academic personalities and actors from the civil society argued it was a good thing for European democracy, as the result is likely to create a debate involving the citizens.
Political leaders in Belgium were saddened with the negative result. Some claimed, such as Ivo Belet (Belgian MEP – Christian Democrat) that the Irish people were not well enough informed and a bit frustrated, and that attention should be given to the reasons of the rejection.[1] The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Karel De Gucht) and the Secretary of State for European Affairs (Olivier Chastel) noted that the situation should not be (over-) dramatized and that we should not heap criticism on Ireland.[2] Yves Leterme, the Belgian Prime Minister, insisted on the complexity and the heterogeneity of the reasons explaining the ‘No’ vote. According to him, ‘Europe’ has become evident over time and the citizens became accustomed to the EU. European leaders should insist more on the benefits, particularly in Ireland that has benefited heavily from the European integration and structural funds.

European leadership needs to avoid disappointing results in the future

Nathalie Brack

The climate conference in Copenhagen: a disappointment for all actors

Economic policy: more coordination, more solidarity

Régis Dandoy

Greek crisis: an almost unconditional solidarity

Belgium largely agreed to contribute to the European effort to financially sustain Greece, and very few political parties expressed their opposition. The Belgian aid will take the form of coordinated bilateral loans and will constitute 3.58 percent of the global effort. The Minister of Finances, Didier Reynders, assessed the Belgian contribution to 1,074 billion Euros.[1] But although Belgium’s solidarity with the Greek people and government was not much discussed,[2] there is a concern that this contribution would have a significant impact on the Belgian public debt (which is estimated to be about 109 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2013). The fear, shared by many political parties, is that Belgium itself would be in the same situation as Greece, because of the important public debt and the current political and institutional crisis. The federal government and particularly the Minister of Budget, Guy Vanhengel, restored confidence claiming that the Greek and Belgian public debts and economies are very different, as economic growth is larger in Belgium and its unemployment rate is smaller than Greece’s.[3]

A priority of low salience

Nathalie Brack

Although enlargement is one of the five priorities of the Belgian Presidency, it was not much discussed during the reporting period. During its Presidency, Belgium intends to be an “honest broker”, i.e., by trying to find a consensus on enlargement and by trying to accelerate the rhythm of domestic reforms within candidate countries in matters such as democracy and peace.[1]

In general, the position of Belgium is that each candidate should respect the EU criteria and all should be treated equitably on the basis of their own merits by the EU institutions. 

The next enlargement round is expected to be composed of Croatia and Iceland. The former is considered as having made good progress in terms of implementing the acquis communautaire and the latter already respects all the political criteria, but faces an economic crisis.[2]

The fall of the federal government after the financial crisis

Centre d’étude de la vie politique, Université libre de Bruxelles
The financial crisis produced unexpected political consequences in Belgium. In the first days of the crisis, the main banks of the country witnessed cash assets problems and a period of mistrust in the population. Related to the surrounding financial events, some of them stood at the edge of bankruptcy. This was especially the case of “Fortis”, one of the largest banks of Belgium, which also had activities located in Luxemburg and the Netherlands. Due to the urgent situation, the Prime Minister Yves Leterme and the Minister of Finances took immediate measures and decided – with the support of the federal cabinet – to nationalise the Belgian parts of the bank (the other parts being acquired by, respectively, the Netherlands and Luxemburg). But in its haste, the government did not request the agreement of the stockholders of “Fortis” as a precondition for the nationalisation. In the following days, the share lost almost all its value and the disappointed stockholders decided to go to court.

No adhesion to NATO in the short term

Centre d’étude de la vie politique, Université libre de Bruxelles
The position of the Belgian government is globally in favour of using dialogue and crisis management with respect to the territorial integrity of Georgia. This policy has been translated into two axes. On the one hand, the preferred option is to preserve all possible elements for a dialogue with Russia, which is implementing a cooperation policy rather than a confrontation policy; on the other hand, it was considered as essential to continue denouncing violations of the territorial integrity of Georgia. These two axes policies have been defended by Belgium at the occasion of bilateral talks between Karel De Gucht (Belgium Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Sergey Lavrov (Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) on the 3 September 2008 and between Yves Leterme (Belgian Prime Minister) and Vladimir Putine (Russian Prime Minister) on the 19 September 2008. The federal parliament, including the opposition, supported this position.[1]