Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union: what this means for climate action 

Publish date: January 9, 2024

The European Union finds itself in a pivotal moment in its history with international crisis and the European elections in June. With the implementation of the European Green Deal on top of the agenda, the Belgian Presidency needs to make sure that climate action is fit to reach EU net-zero objectives.

Starting January 1st, 2024, Belgium holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union with the slogan “Protect, Strengthen, Prepare”. The Presidency – lasting until June 30th, 2024 – follows Spain’s tenure and will be succeeded by Hungary, completing this ‘Presidency trio’.  

Belgium’s Presidency coincides with a pivotal period for the European Union (EU), dealing with internal and external challenges such as the ongoing war in Ukraine, revamped conflicts in the Middle East, and energy and climate crisis. The new Presidency also converges with the European elections in June 2024, which will kick-off a new crucial 5 year-cycle for EU institutions and governance.  

Consequently, the priorities of the Belgian Presidency are the following: defending the rule of law, democracy and unity; strengthening EU competitiveness; pursuing a green and just transition; reinforcing EU social and health agenda; protecting people and borders; and promoting a global Europe.  

In the official programme of the new Presidency, great importance is given to the “implementation of the objectives of the European Green Deal”. Bellona Europa believes it is crucial for the new Presidency to finalise all pending Green Deal files with high climate ambition, in order to establish strong benchmarks for the next term. 

Environment and Just Transition 

According to the Belgian Presidency, climate transition will be placed “at the heart of its priorities”. In the pursuit of the EU Green Deal’s objective, the approach of the new Presidency will be holistic, with special emphasis placed on Just Transition ensuring the well-being of all, particularly those impacted first and most by the green transition. 

Among the Fit for 55 files the Presidency aims to finalise during its mandate, the Carbon Removal Certification Framework (CRCF) stands out as one of the most crucial. Bellona Europa has welcomed the division of certificates into three distinct categories – carbon farming, carbon storage in products, and carbon removals – as voted by the Parliament. However, we believe that the agreement reached by the Council weakens the original Commission proposal, particularly on the requirements for permanence. It is crucial that, in the negotiations led by Belgium, the approach adopted by the Parliament prevails, especially regarding the separation in categories and the requirement that storage of atmospheric or biogenic carbon should last at least ‘several centuries’ as a criterion to qualify activities as carbon removals. In addition, we hold a firm belief that the practice of offsetting abatable emissions should not be allowed under any circumstances. 

In this context, it is also relevant to mention the Presidency’s intentions to explore the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), reflecting on a post-2027 framework which will focus on both the supply and demand sides. 

As part of its environmental agenda, the Belgian Presidency aims to finalise the work related to the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR). The Spanish Presidency delivered on its promise of finalising all relevant files that tackle the topic of carbon embodied in the building sector: it managed to close the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) and the Construction Products Regulation (CPR). The finalisation of the ESPR and ensuring the sound implementation of these files will be crucial to tackle embodied carbon in construction. 

Overall, Bellona Europa welcomes the Belgian Presidency’s commitment to a socially just green transition as part of its efforts to advance the EU’s Green Deal agenda. We urge the integration of the just transition principles also into key priorities relating to the strengthening of the EU’s industrial future, particularly in addressing process emissions, where CCS emerges as one of the only viable technologies. It is imperative that as efforts to decarbonise European industries increase, special attention and assistance are provided to geographically disadvantaged emitters located far away from industrial hubs and large ports. This would ensure that regions and communities relying on these crucial industries are not left behind, an important step towards an inclusive and resilient transition. 

Finally, we support the urgency given by the Presidency to climate change as one of the most dangerous global challenges to be tackled. The goal of furthering EU climate diplomacy, as mentioned in the Presidency’s programme, is appreciated, however it remains clear from the lukewarm outcome of COP28 that the EU has much work to do with regards to improving its multilateral approach to the climate crisis, with CBAM having been on the receiving end of criticism from developing countries despite its potential to be a future platform for Climate Finance.  

Industry and Internal market 

Quoting Belgian Prime Minister De Croo’s directly, “strengthen EU economy in a sustainable way” will be on the list of priorities for the new Presidency. Accordingly, enhancing the single market and keeping European industries competitive is included as a stand-alone point in the new Presidency’s programme. Major relevance is given to the Green Deal Industrial Plan for the Net-Zero Age (GDIP) -specifically the Net Zero Industry Act (NZIA)- and the Industrial Carbon Market Strategy. These policies are crucial for refining EU industries, but their climate dimension should not be undermined.  

Bellona Europa welcomes the Presidency’s intention to finalise the negotiations and approve the Net Zero Industry Act under its tenure. For the file to be in line with EU climate ambition, it is crucial that the articles related to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) maintain fundamental targets and obligation placed on oil and gas. In particular, the EU annual storage injection capacity must be at least 50 million tonnes per annum, and this target should be an EU specific one, to tackle the significant amounts of CO2 emitted within the EU.. Moreover, it is necessary that the obligation on oil and gas producers remains, in order to ensure  a timely development of CO2 storage capacity within the EU, enabling decarbonisation efforts. 

As for the Industrial Carbon Management Strategy, Bellona Europa appreciates the Belgian Presidency’s objective to facilitate the debate on this long-awaited document, which will be published with the Communication on the EU Climate Target for 2040. This initiative holds significant promise for shaping the trajectory and expediting the progress of industrial decarbonisation in Europe. This strategy is expected to be published in the first quarter of 2024 and Bellona Europa expects the Commission to make it available in timely manner and to establish separate targets for emission reductions, natural land sinks, and permanent carbon removal. 

Finally, the Belgian Presidency generally states that it will “explore the potential” of different technologies including carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen. While CCS is a necessary technology to reach the EU net zero targets and transport infrastructures is an area that needs to be scrutinised, a cautious evaluation of the impact of CCU needs to be carried out. Moreover, hydrogen needs to be prioritised for industrial sectors that do not have access to more efficient (read: less inefficient) decarbonisation pathways. 


In the programme of the Belgian Presidency, it is stated that “geopolitical and extreme climate events have highlighted the need for an accelerated and inclusive energy transition” with focus on energy infrastructures, including grid infrastructures and facilities for hydrogen imports.  

Regarding grids, even though no specific policy file is mentioned, Bellona Europa believes that providing clean and secure electricity to consumers must be at the centre of EU energy policy. In particular, we welcome the Presidency’s emphasis on electricity grid infrastructure. Significant investments in these infrastructures together with the enhancement of a flexible European Network are necessary steps to effectively implement a coherent EU energy policy. While the discussion on grids has become more prominent, Bellona Europa looks to the Belgian Presidency to further push these discussions and initiatives and work towards concrete actions. 

Although there were talks about finalising the Electricity Market Design reform under the Belgian Presidency, a political agreement has already been reached under the Spanish Presidency. Although the reform aims at moving towards a more renewables-based system, Bellona Europa is disappointed with the continuation of subsidies for fossil fuel power plants through capacity mechanisms, included in the agreement. While stringent conditions have been added to the text, this goes directly against climate action and the direction to phase out fossil fuels in energy systems that the EU was championing at COP28. In order to be consistent with its programme, Bellona Europa calls the Belgian Presidency to make use of the agreements reached at COP28 as the baseline of their future work on energy. 

Hydrogen is another crucial point contained in the energy section of the Belgian programme. While the Spanish Presidency concluded the work on the Gas Market Package (GMP), which only misses the final approval, particular emphasis is given to the international trade of hydrogen, which the Presidency is “committed” to push forward. 

Bellona Europa agrees that international trade of hydrogen is fundamental to supply Europe with the amount of hydrogen needed to decarbonise its economy. However, trading hydrogen comes with associated risks in terms of both climate footprint and conflict over resources. It is crucial that Europe works on creating global standards for clean hydrogen, that protect both the climate and the affected populations. We urge the Belgian Presidency to be wary of the hype around hydrogen, especially considering that there are more efficient solutions to decarbonise the energy sector such as investment in grids and direct electrification. 

What’s missing? 

Although the strong commitment of the Belgian Presidency to reach a green and just transition, concrete mention of economic and financial measures to shift away from fossil fuels are missing. While expressing its dedication to finalise the mid-term review of the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework, no specific emphasis is given to the role of climate finance in the document. Similarly, although we positively acknowledge that the Presidency will “continue the review of the Energy Taxation Directive”, we believe that stronger commitment is necessary in order to remove fossil fuel subsidies that are still enshrined in our legislative framework. 

The Belgian presidency is tasked with steering the European Union toward the June elections, marking a new EU political phase. It’s crucial to keep climate policies as the focal point of the political agenda, particularly addressing the financial aspect not covered in the MFF. 

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