What to expect from the Belgian Presidency?

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Every six months, the presidency of the Council of the European Union rotates to one of the Member States. As of January 2024, Spain will hand over the presidency to Belgium which will be in charge of closing the current five-year mandate.

The European Parliament has been clear about its intent to conclude all ongoing inter-institutional negotiations (trilogues) by mid-February 2024 at the latest. After this deadline, there would not be enough time to translate the adopted texts into all EU languages, and it would be too difficult to officially adopt them before the EU election set on 6 to 9 June 2024.

Belgium’s Presidency will therefore be split up in two parts. Firstly, a rush from January to February to close the leftover files from the Spanish Presidency, and secondly, supporting the adoption of the Strategic Agenda 2024-2029, while preparing discussions on the future of the European Union in the second half of the presidency.

The Belgian Presidency programme setting out its main priorities underlines that it will focus on a strong, resilient, and inclusive green and digital transition, including the finalisation of related legislative packages. So far, the Spanish Presidency was very effective in reaching provisional inter-institutional compromise on many files such as the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act, the European digital identity framework (eIDAS), or the new rules on Ecodesign (ESPR). However, numerous other files remain on the table, and the Belgian Presidency will have to roll up its sleeves to close deals on those pending legislation before the deadline of mid-February 2024. Relevant to e-commerce, the following files have a real chance to be concluded before this deadline:

The Product Liability Directive (PLD) will revise the existing Directive adopted in 1985 by bringing the EU’s current regime up to speed with the digital age, the circular economy and global value chains. The new measure will ensure that consumers receive compensation for defective products including those manufactured outside the EU. The second trilogue will take place on 14 December. However, many issues are still being discussed and if the Spanish Presidency is unable to close a deal, the file will be passed on to the Belgian Presidency where the chances to close a deal are high.

The Right to Repair Directive is a new measure aimed at making it easier and cheaper to repair products. Inter-institutional negotiations only just started on 7 December, and the main disagreement is on the scope of the Directive. While the Parliament wants to extend the scope of the Directive to include as many products as possible, Member States disagree and would prefer applying this new right only to products covered by repairability requirements under EU Ecodesign rules, as originally proposed by the European Commission. As this file is great campaign material, co-legislators have expressed their common intention to conclude inter-institutional negotiations before the EU elections.

VAT in the Digital Age (ViDA) is a series of measures presented by the European Commission in December 2022 to modernise and make the European VAT system work better in the digital economy. It has been reported that the agreement among Member States regarding the ViDA proposal will be postponed to after December 2023 due to a misalignment of the national positions on digital reporting requirements, as well as the mandatory aspect of the Import One Stop Shop. Reaching an agreement on this file under the Belgian Presidency seems however very likely.

The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation’s (PPWR) first reading position of the European Parliament was approved in Plenary at the end of November. However, the Council of the European Union has yet to finalise its General Approach. Member States are currently in a disagreement over the extent of the new rules and the level of flexibility granted for national implementation. Other contentious issues include re-use, restrictions and deposits. If the Spanish Presidency manages to reach a final compromise on 18 December at the Environment Council, there might be a chance to see this file finalised before the EU elections.  However, in the opposite case, meeting the February deadline appears unlikely.

Due to the tightness of the schedule, many remaining files are expected to be passed on to the Member State taking over the Presidency in the second half of the year, that being Hungary. Nonetheless, Belgium will play an important role in advancing internal Council negotiations on pending files on which inter-institutional negotiations will be postponed until the second half of 2024. These include for instance the revision of the Alternative Dispute Resolution framework, with the European Parliament expected to adopt its position in the IMCO Committee on 22 February. But also, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Enforcement law which will harmonise procedural rules in cross-border cases.

Concerning payment-related files, two key important pending files, namely, the Payment Services Regulation (PSR) and the Digital Euro will most likely be finalised under the next mandate. While substantial progress has been made on sustainability-related files during this mandate, a few, such as the Green Claims Directive, or the Waste Framework directive remain open and are unlikely to be closed before the EU elections. Lastly, the Revision of the Union Custom Code is also expected to resume under the Hungarian Presidency.

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