Belgian EU Presidency: time to accelerate the EU’s Green Deal Transition

02. 01. 2024
AUTHOR: Neil Makaroff and Thomas Willems

As Belgium assumes the presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) on 1 January 2024, it takes the reins of a bloc poised to accelerate its transition towards net-zero. The presidency arrives at this pivotal moment with a strong commitment to upholding the European Green Deal, an agenda that aims to keep the EU on track to carbon neutrality by 2050.

As the first term of Commission President von der Leyen comes to an end, the Green Deal has turned into a strategic choice to address the multiple crises the EU has faced. It has guided the economic recovery plan, lowered the high energy dependency on Russia and could alleviate the cost of living crisis. The EU faces mounting pressure to continue accelerating its transition towards a net-zero economy, and Belgium's Presidency coincides with a critical juncture.

The recent 28th United Nations (UN) Climate Change conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, underscored the urgency of ambitious climate action and the need to decarbonise the energy sector. The growing industrial race to net-zero between the United States and China is challenging Europe’s competitiveness, and the dependence on imported fossil fuels appears to be a politically- and economically-costly option. At this critical juncture, leaders have the choice between bold decisions on the next phase of the Green Deal to ensure zero-carbon technology leadership or a cautious approach that risks making the EU fall behind in the race.

Belgium's Presidency provides a unique opportunity to address those challenges set out in our compass and in shaping the next steps of the net-zero transition in Europe. There are two main points on its desk: the EU 2040 climate target and the "Strategic Agenda", which gathers Europe’s 2024-2029 priorities, set to be adopted by EU leaders in June. By seeking the adoption of the EU 2040 climate target at the same time as the Strategic Agenda, the Belgian Presidency can use it as a catalyst for transformative changes.

In the wake of COP28, there has been a growing momentum towards the 2040 target, with Denmark and the European Commission committing to a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by that date. France has also advocated in favour of end dates for coal, gas and oil, further demonstrating the international commitment to phasing out fossil fuels.

The Belgian Presidency can use this political momentum to advance on the 2040 climate target debate and anchor it in a broader economic and industrial framework.

It paves the way for a fossil-free economy, benefiting all its citizens and businesses. In seizing this moment, the Belgium Presidency would also ensure the EU can demonstrate its commitment to global leadership in climate action by adopting its new 2035 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) well ahead of the UN deadline of November 2024 to February 2025.

What are the key steps of the Belgian Presidency?
  • 16 January: Informal Environment Council under the Belgian EU Council Presidency that provides an opportunity for debating what the Global Stocktake means for the EU at the margins.
  • 6 February (tbc): European Commission publication on a new 2040 climate target, ideally with a clear 2035 milestone which gets included in the next EU NDC.
  • 21 - 22 March: The European Council can recognise how the pathway to 2040 is relevant for the EU’s economic transformation as well as its international credibility.
  • 25 March: The Environment Council chaired by the Belgian Presidency will discuss the European Commission’s 2040 climate plan.
  • May (tbc): Informal Head of State and Government Summit in Brussels to discuss the Strategic Agenda.
  • 17 June: The Environment Council, chaired by the Belgian Presidency, can prepare the ground for a final agreement on the 2040 climate target.
  • 27 - 28 June: Heads of State and Government have the opportunity to agree on the 2040 climate target as part of the Strategic Agenda, which sets the main priorities of the European Union for the new institutional cycle.
How can linking the 2040 climate target and the Strategic Agenda be a catalyst for transformative changes?

Strategic Perspectives believes that the 2040 climate target can guide decisions and provide a new compass for a more strategic Europe in the next mandate.

Our Visionary Scenario, which reaches a 90% GHG emission reduction by 2040, shows that the EU can largely reduce its dependence on fossil fuel imports by accelerating the dual dynamic of the electrification of its economy and the scale up of renewable energy.

If well-planned, a zero-emission power sector is reachable by 2037 in the EU while almost 50% of the economy is electrified. Sector specific fossil fuel phase out targets could be introduced to secure a well-managed transition. The 2040 climate target can further provide all the ingredients for a robust industrial strategy, based on circularity, direct and indirect electrification, and the production of net-zero technologies in Europe. It will also make the economy less reliant on raw material imports.

Finally, it will guide future investments. In view of preparing the end of the Resilience and Recovery Facility in 2026 and the discussion on the EU's next multi-annual financial framework for 2027 to 2034, it is time to think about a new European financial architecture for the European Green Deal. An agreement on the 2040 climate target can inform this discussion.

What are Belgium’s assets for delivering this agenda?

The Belgium Presidency can play an important role in advancing these initiatives. Leveraging the country's expertise in industrial policy and its commitment to long-term well being, Belgium, with its strong track record in offshore wind and a growing commitment to innovation, can help shape the EU's future agenda as a global leader in net-zero technology and economic competitiveness.

As Belgium embarks on its Presidency, it carries the weight of expectations and the responsibility to deliver tangible results. The country is well-positioned to do so, with a strong commitment to an impactful presidency and its national elections coinciding with the European Parliament ones. By working collaboratively with other Member States and stakeholders, Belgium can ensure that the EU's transition continues to gain momentum, in a way that businesses and citizens benefit alike.

Key takeaways:
  • Belgium's Presidency arrives at a crucial time for the European Green Deal, with an opportunity to accelerate progress towards carbon neutrality.
  • Belgium's Presidency is an opportunity to champion ambitious climate action and pave the way for a fossil-free future.
  • Linking the 2040 climate target and the Strategic Agenda can be a catalyst for transformative change with socio-economic benefits for businesses and citizens.
  • Belgium is positioned to shape the EU's future as a global leader in green technology and economic competitiveness if leaders take bold decisions on the next phase of the European Green Deal.