Belgium

Belgium takes over the EU presidency

REUTERS/Thierry Roge

Every six months, the presidency of the European Union is rotated among its member states. Belgium takes the helm Thursday, succeeding Spain.

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Belgium launched its six-month presidency on Thursday with a one big idea: Cross-border economic government anchored in new pan-national taxes.

The country wants to explore new sources of revenue to finance European-level projects.

One of those revenue streams could come from a portion of the income from new types of taxes currently up for debate in Europe, including levies on banks, a tax on financial transactions, or even a bloc-wide carbon tax.

But there is a major roadblock to the plan: Major opposition from the United Kingdom.

For the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition running the UK, even the slightest whiff of European-level governance is anathema and anything which could be conceived as a transfer of sovereignty will likely be rejected.

The concept of pan-national taxes is principally driven by outgoing Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders. But Reynders may well leave his post over the course of Belgium’s EU chairmanship once Belgium negotiates a new coalition government.

In April, Belgium's King Albert II accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Yves Leterme's government after the collapse of the ruling coalition. The new government will not likely be put into place until this October.

With the country's current political instability, some fear Belgium may not be able to handle the challenges of its new role. Besides struggling to form a new government, it must also find a way to weld together its feuding Flemish and French-speaking regions.

“The presidency of the European Union presents an opportunity for a country to work on its image, but it’s coming at a bad time for Belgium,” says Dave Sinardet, a political analyst at the University of Antwerp.

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