Belgium’s EU Council Presidency and Cooperatives, a Look Forward.

Belgian presidency Council of the EU

On January 1st, 2024, Belgium took over the presidency of the Council of the EU, rolling out their programme under the banner “Protect, Strengthen, Prepare.” This presidency holds particular significance for cooperatives throughout Europe, as it will act as a closing chapter for many current files while also paving the way for the next mandate after the EU elections.

Belgium’s six-month focus on boosting the EU’s competitive edge will prioritize fair competition for businesses, especially SMEs. Cooperatives Europe welcomes this, advocating for inclusive policies across all sectors and Member States and simpler administrative processes, in line with our efforts on the Due Diligence Directive and sustainability reporting. Building on our involvement in last year’s consultations which mostly focused on larger industries, we’re now set to contribute to the consultation for voluntary sustainability reporting standards for SMEs (VSME). We’ll be seeking input from our members on this crucial matter soon.

A key item on the agenda is the mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). We strongly urge the Belgian Presidency to champion the prioritization of SMEs, ensuring the preservation and augmentation of funds allocated to them, especially via the SME window of InvestEU.

The agenda highlights the importance of a just twin transition, aiming to achieve the goals of the Green Deal while also strengthening the EU’s digital autonomy. We welcome Belgium’s prioritization of a human-centred and sustainable approach which the core values of cooperatives: transparency and citizen empowerment. We look forward to seeing measures that support digital innovation and its adoption by smaller entities in a landscape often dominated by larger corporations.

Another key aspect of Belgium’s strategy is the strengthening of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Cooperatives Europe strongly advocates for a more robust political and institutional commitment from the Presidency to ensure the effective national-level implementation of the Council Recommendation on Social Economy Framework Conditions. This is particularly vital as this recommendation encompasses provisions for improved access to funding for SEOs, including cooperatives, a fundamental element for their growth and continued sustainability. These recommendations are not legally binding. The European Commission should therefore take a proactive role in coordination, possibly through the GECES group, to ensure that these recommendations are aligned with the broader objectives of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Lastly, in response to escalating global geopolitical tensions, the Belgian Presidency committed to promoting the rule of law and democracy within Europe through support for the enlargement process and monitoring the accession of candidate countries. Representing our non-EU members, Cooperatives Europe will continue to endorse the vital role of cooperatives in strengthening the social and economic fabric of neighbouring countries and advocate for their inclusion in the enlargement process.

With the upcoming EU elections, Belgium has the opportunity to establish ambitious benchmarks for the next mandate. Cooperatives Europe will be vigilantly monitoring the implementation of this program and persistently advocate for policies that recognize and bolster cooperatives at every level.

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