On Tuesday 20 April, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Affairs, Sophie Wilmès, held a videoconference with her European counterparts within the framework of the General Affairs Council (GAC). The ministers focused mainly on European coordination in relation to COVID-19, the rule of law situation in five Member States and the Conference on the Future of Europe.


According to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), the situation remains worrying despite the fact that the average number of infections/deaths over 14 days is decreasing slightly in most countries. This concern is based on indicators that remain high (hospitalisations, intensive care bed occupancy, mortality), a relatively low vaccination rate and the circulation of three virus variants.

For Sophie Wilmès, “It is imperative that we remain vigilant in the face of the development of new variants around the world, in particular certain variants – such as the Brazilian – which present worrying characteristics and, therefore, a real risk in our joint fight against COVID-19. Belgium would therefore like to see a harmonised and proactive approach to the issue, in order to monitor the development and spread of these new variants (based on our sequencing analysis and an evaluation of trends abroad). The goal is to take appropriate and coordinated action at our borders to deal with it.”

Rule of law

The European Affairs Ministers also held an in-depth discussion on the rule of law situation in a new group of five Member States, in the framework of the Rule of Law Dialogue. This semester focused on Germany, Greece, Spain, France and Ireland. The analysis was based on the country chapters of the European Commission’s first annual report on the functioning of the rule of law. Our country had been at the centre of discussions in November, when the first group was discussed. As a co-initiator (the idea of this peer review on the rule of law was championed by the current European Commissioner, Didier Reynders), Belgium supports the Commission’s approach and report. The Benelux countries, too, through their President Sophie Wilmès, expressed their full support for the process, “Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to a strong European Union, based on our common values, the rule of law and the primacy of Community law.”

Conference on the Future of Europe

The Ministers for European Affairs were also informed by the Portuguese Presidency of the progress of the work on the Conference on the Future of Europe, which will begin on 9 May. A digital, multilingual platform was launched on Monday 19 April to allow all stakeholders (citizens, civil society organisations, national and regional parliaments, etc.) wanting to organise an event in this context to reference these events and thus ensure better follow-up. Sophie Wilmès said, “As a founding member of the European Union, a traditional supporter of the European project and the seat of the institutions, it is very important for Belgium to maintain its citizens’ trust in the Union. The Conference on the Future must be an inclusive and effective exercise, placing citizens and their expectations and hopes at the centre of deliberations. These expectations and hopes must then be translated into concrete policy proposals.”