Political problems linked to the formation of a new government will plague the Belgian EU Presidency, giving permanent Council President Herman Van Rompuy a unique opportunity to take charge of the EU's agenda, political science professor Pascal Delwit told EURACTIV France in an interview.
Today (1 July) marks the first day of Belgium’s presidency, which runs until the end of December.
Belgium has been led by the caretaker government of Yves Leterme since elections last month failed to produce an outright winner. Negotiations on forming a new government are not expected to come to a conclusion until September or early October.
"To a great extent, the Belgian EU Presidency will be Herman Van Rompuy's presidency," said Delwit, professor of political science at the Free University of Brussels (Universite Libre de Bruxelles), adding that the lack of political leadership in Belgium means "no-one will be there to overshadow him".
Indeed, Belgian State Secretary for European Affairs Olivier Chastel told EURACTIV in an interview recently that the Belgian Presidency would mark a "rupture" or break from current practice by giving full leeway to EU figureheads Van Rompuy and foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton during its tenure (EURACTIV 02/06/10).
Delwit believes the effects of the country's political void will mainly be felt at prime ministerial level, predicting that the practical, day-to-day running of the European Union will proceed smoothly.
Upon assuming the EU presidency, prime ministers usually tour national capitals to drum up support for their country's priorities and listen to the concerns of their colleagues.
"The Belgian prime minister, who'll arrive during the course of the presidency, won't have done all this work upstream. Putting dossiers on the table and following them up will be more complicated," Delwit predicts.
However, the professor expects that such problems will be eased by the presence of Belgian national Herman Van Rompuy in the EU driving seat.
He points to the fact that Van Rompuy is well-schooled in the intricacies of Belgian politics, making him an ideal "substitute" for Belgian leadership during the country's presidency, "even more so given that no-one will be there to overshadow him".
Asked to compare the Belgian Presidency with its Spanish predecessor, Delwit said "the presidency of a small country isn't generally like those of big member states like France or Germany".
Meanwhile, the unique nature of Belgian politics, which is characterised by its strong Europhile tendencies and the capacity to work hard, mean that its EU presidency "won't necessarily promote national interests" over European ones.