Reuters Brussels, Belgium
Jul 20, 2016, 11.06 AM
Belgium is ready to take on Britain's rotating six-month EU presidency in 2017 after London announced it would drop out to focus on its Brexit negotiations, a Belgian official said Wednesday.
"Belgium is ready to take over this presidency if we are asked," foreign ministry spokesman Didier Vanderhasselt told AFP.
A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said earlier Britain would no longer assume the EU presidency as planned in the second half of next year, as the government will "be prioritising the negotiations to leave the European Union."
The decision, reached in a phone call between May and EU Council President Donald Tusk on Tuesday evening, reflects the scale of the task facing Britain as it seeks to negotiate a new relationship with the EU after a June 23 public vote to leave.
"The Prime Minister suggested that the UK should relinquish the rotating Presidency of the Council, currently scheduled for the second half of 2017, noting that we would be prioritising the negotiations to leave the European Union," the spokeswoman said.
A spokesman for Tusk said there had been no decision yet on who would take up the vacant slot, and that discussions on the issue would begin immediately between ambassadors.
Belgium is among the EU nations that have been pushing strongest for Britain to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which would set in motion the negotiations for the Brexit divorce proceedings.
The presidency of the European Council -- the gathering of national ministers from the EU's 28 member states -- rotates among members every six months.
Slovakia currently has the presidency, until December 31, to be followed by Malta. Britain was due to take it from July 1 until December 31, 2017.