Europe

Belgium dances into top EU role with rock gig

Belgian EU presidency website - screen grab
Image caption Belgium derives many benefits from hosting the main EU institutions

The EU knows it takes a lot more than two to tango, so Belgium is staging a big dance event to mark the start of its six-month EU presidency.

The "I love EU" show gets top billing on the new Belgian presidency website, www.eutrio.be.

Brussels-born British rocker Brian Molko and his band Placebo will be star attractions at Saturday's gig in Brussels. Smaller parties will take place in 11 other Belgian cities.

Belgium hosts the top EU institutions.

The EU's 27 member states take it in turns to run EU affairs for six months, and Spain is now handing on the baton to Belgium.

But the Lisbon Treaty has downgraded the importance of the six-month rotating presidency, because major EU initiatives are now handled by the European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, and foreign policy is in the hands of the High Representative, Baroness Ashton from the UK.

Lisbon Treaty impact

As a former Belgian prime minister, Mr Van Rompuy "will help to make Belgium visible" on the EU stage, a top Belgian official said.

Image caption Placebo will perform in Brussels, outside the European Parliament

Bernard Bulcke, spokesman for Belgium's mission to the EU, said EU institutions were "still looking for the borders" because the Lisbon Treaty had modified their roles and powers.

"The European Parliament is really becoming an important player now," he told the news channel EUX.TV.

Belgium does not yet have a new government and coalition negotiations are expected to continue for months, but Belgian officials have played down the impact of that on EU affairs.

The current caretaker government will carry on, and Finance Minister Didier Reynders said he would prefer it to stay in charge throughout Belgium's presidency.

Ethnic split

Belgium is the seat of the European Commission, the Council - the grouping of EU governments - and the Parliament.

But the country itself is deeply divided between the mainly Dutch-speaking Flanders region and Francophone Wallonia.

Mr Bulcke said Belgian politicians were past masters at brokering compromises, and "that is one of the most important things to do on the European level".

A heated debate about EU "economic government" is raging as member states strive to co-ordinate their budgetary policies better.

Alarmed by Greece's massive debts, Germany is spearheading a drive to tighten the fiscal rules to prevent countries indulging in reckless spending sprees.

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