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This will be the eleventh time that Belgium, a founding member of the European Economic Community, has held the six-monthly rotating Presidency. The Flemish Liberal Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt emphasised the "ambitious" nature of his Government's European programme. Under its Presidency, at the Laeken European Council on December 14 and 15, EU Heads of State and Government are expected to agree initiatives on the future of the Union in accordance with the Declaration attached to the Nice Treaty. This Declaration called on Member States to consider such issues as the division of powers between the EU and its Member States, the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, simplification of the Treaties and the role of national Parliaments.This should lead to an Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) in 2004, preceded by a wide-ranging public debate, initiated on March 7 (see European Report 2575 for further details). This should be followed by more formal preparatory work according to a method still to be defined, though the European Parliament is already vigorously defending the formula of a Convention along the lines of that which drafted the Charter. Mr Verhofstadt emphasised the need to go beyond the timetable, method and agenda provided for in Nice and proposes to expand discussions in Laeken to embrace a global project for Europe. He pointed notably to the reform of the European Union Budget, decision-making procedures and the EU's institutional architecture. In this respect, Mr Verhofstadt welcomed the contribution from the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder in anticipation of his SPD Party Congress, which he described as a very positive project for the future (see previous issue of European Report for further details).The successful introduction of the Euro, "substantive" progress on asylum and immigration policy in the context of the implementation of the findings of the first scoreboard on the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ) agreed at the Tampere European Council in October 1999, better quality...

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