The Spanish EU Presidency


Spain takes on the European Union's six-month rotating presidency at a defining moment for the bloc, marked by the first steps of the Union's first-ever permanent president and foreign affairs chief and efforts to lift Europe out of its worst recession in decades.

From 1 January to 30 June 2010, Spain will hold the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union. 

Spain said it will act in close coordination with the two following EU presidency holders Belgium (July-December 2010) and Hungary (January-June 2011). The so-called 'trio of presidencies' have chosen a common logo to symbolise their partnership (Euractiv 30/10/09) and said they will strive to provide a model for fostering greater consistency in the European Union's leadership. 

The Spanish Presidency will be the first to operate under the rules of the Lisbon Treaty. This implies that Madrid's relationship with the new posts created by the text – the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the permanent president of the European Council – could set a precedent for the future institutional balance of the European architecture. 

The powers of the Council presidency are briefly outlined in Article 16 of the new Treaty on the European Union (paragraph nine) and Article 237 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Broadly speaking, these powers should be regarded as the ability to set the EU's agenda, provide its structure and propose compromise solutions. These levers remain intact under the Lisbon Treaty. 

An additional feature introduced under Lisbon is that the former administrative structure of the General Affairs and External Affairs Council (GAERC) will now be split between a Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) and a General Affairs Council (GAC). 

The former will be chaired by the EU High Representative, who could end up being torn between three masters: the president of the European Commission, the president of the European Council and the holder of the rotating EU presidency. 

According to Spanish sources, an additional 80 people have been employed by the Spanish Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels to help organise the presidency. In Madrid, a special committee of 40 people has been assembled. Since April 2008 the latter has been led by High Representative for the Spanish EU Presidency Nicolás Martínez-Fresno y Pavia. Additional support and expertise has been gathered from other relevant ministries. 

A celebrative art installation by Daniel Canogar entitled ‘Traversías’ has been unveiled in the lobby of the Council of the European Union to inaugurate the beginning of the Spanish presidency (EURACTIV 5/01/2010). Spain estimates that cost of holding the presidency will be in the order of 55 million euros.

What priorities?

Although Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero outlined his country's priorities as early as February 2009, some uncertainty still reigns as to what the main issues on the agenda will be. 

On 8 December 2009, Spanish Secretary of State for EU Affairs Diego López Garrido said his country's presidency will focus on four main areas: 

  • The economy, with the recovery from the economic crisis and job creation on top of the agenda; 
  • Implementing the Lisbon Treaty; 
  • Citizenship, paying particular attention to gender equality, and; 
  • Foreign affairs, helping the EU to become a genuine global player. 

On top of this, four additional priorities were submitted to the Spanish parliament by the ruling Socialist Party (PSOE), the main centre-right opposition People's Party (PP), and regional parties from Catalonia (Convergència I Unió) and the Basque Country (EAJ-PNV). These are: 

  • Strengthening the European area of freedom, security and justice, giving special attention to fighting terrorism and reviewing EU immigration and asylum policies; 
  • Strengthening EU policies towards its so-called 'ultra-peripheral' regions: Guadeloupe, French Guyana, Martinique, Reunion, the Azores, the Canarie Islands and Madeira (as defined by Article 349 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; TFEU); 
  • Promoting a new, low-carbon energy model to address climate change, and; 
  • Defining the terms of the EU's next long-term budgetary planning period for 2014-2020 (the so-called 'Financial Perspectives'). 

2020 strategy

Re-launching the economy and creating jobs take centre stage among Spain's stated objectives. This is a crucial task given that the effects of the financial crisis are now being felt in labour markets across Europe. 

According to Eurostat, the unemployment rate across the EU-27 increased from 7.5% in November 2008 to 9.3% in October 2009 and is expected to break the 10% threshold in 2010 (EURACTIV 25/11/09). The problem is particularly acute in Spain, which has the highest unemployment rate in the euro zone. The average level of unemployment in the single currency area stood at 9.8% in October 2009, while it reached 19.3% in Spain. According to the Labour Ministry the number of people registered as jobless hit 3.9 million in December, up 54,657 from the month before (EURACTIV 5/01/2010) Indeed, Latvia is the only EU country to record a worse rate than the incoming presidency holder, with 20.9%. 

In November, the European Commission launched a consultation on the future 'EU 2020strategy to make Europe a "smarter, greener social market" within the next decade (EURACTIV 25/11/09). 

The results of the consultation, which closes on 15 January, will be presented to EU leaders at their summit in March 2010. Spain will therefore have a prominent role in brokering an agreement between EU leaders during the meeting. It will also have to fend off attacks from NGOs, which would like to see publication of the consultation's conclusions postponed until December 2010, when Belgium will be at the EU's helm (EURACTIV 24/11/09). 

Speaking before Spanish ambassadors to EU countries, Zapatero also stressed how the EU must move towards greater economic cooperation. "This is the great goal, the main goal of the European Union: the reinforcement of the common monetary policy, and strengthening the euro and the economic policy of the 27 EU members in a more coordinated way, through cooperation," he said. 

Zapatero is also aiming to rebalance existing asymmetry in Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), which saw the EU establish a centralised monetary institution, the European Central Bank (ECB), but did not give Brussels equal powers to coordinate national economic policies. 

"If the European Union really wants to be a political union, which works for its citizens, it has to have a much more solid economic government [...] with tools," Zapatero told a joint press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in April. "I can't see a single market, a single currency, then not see an economic government with powers, with tools," he said (EURACTIV 29/04/09). 

Diego López Garrido, Spain's secretary of state for EU affairs, echoed Zapatero when he said developing a new system to supervise the international financial system is an important goal of the Spanish Presidency. Part of this strategy includes a push for the implementation of the European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) for macro-prudential supervision as a matter of priority (EURACTIV 7/01/2010)

The Spanish government is also expected to help facilitate the work of former Commissioner Mario Monti, who has been charged by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso with producing a report on the status of the single market and strategies for moving it forward. According to the Italian, the key test for market economies, perhaps even for democracies, will be whether they can master growing inequalities triggered by ungoverned globalisation and aggravated by the crisis (EURACTIV 04/12/09). 

'Reflection group' on the EU's future

The Spanish Presidency will also coincide with the release in June 2010 of a report by a Reflection Group on the future of Europe established by the European Council on 17 December 2007. 

The so-called 'group of wise men' is headed by Spain's former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González. The group is responsible for outlining a vision for Europe between 2020 and 2030. It is expected to consult intensively with the Spanish Presidency given the tight time-frame and the shared political and geographical culture of those concerned. 

The importance that Zapatero attributes to the insights of these ‘wise men’ has been testified by the fact that one of his first acts as President of the Council was to invite them for an informal discussion at the Moncloa, the official residence of the President of the Government (EURACTIV 6/01/2010). Zapatero exchanged views with the head of the group Felipe González who was accompanied also by former Commission President Jacques Delors and former Spanish Commissioner Pedro Solbes. The men parted with an agreement to meet again but no concrete dates were set at this stage, government sources said. 

The main issue discussed in the meeting was the strengthening of economic governance both in the light of increased international competition by emerging international players such as BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the internal difficulties in Europe to maintain fiscal discipline for which the Greek case stands as a vivid reminder. 

Conservative daily ABC writes that the Moncloa meeting produced no more than uninspired and lacklustre statements. The article states with irony that after having assumed the EU presidency, Zapatero has invited González to take advice from him, something he had not done once in the past six years of his mandate.  

Lisbon Treaty implementation

The EU's long-awaited Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1 December 2009, but the impact it will have on the rotating presidencies and the EU's institutional structure in general is yet to be clarified. 

Herman Van Rompuy, the newly-appointed permanent president of the European Council, did not in fact chair the December 2009 summit of EU leaders. He will therefore intervene for the first time in his new capacity during an extraordinary summit on the economic situation in Europe in February 2010. 

Zapatero and Van Rompuy have tried to silence the criticisms of those who consider the positions of president of the Council of the EU and that of president of the European Council as antagonistic. They did so by drafting jointly a letter to major European newspaper in which they highlighted their intention to make Europe stronger and better prepared for the coming decades focusing on economic governance, foreign policy and the environment.

Moreover, both the president of the European Council and the Spanish Presidency will make use of the General Affairs Council (GAC) created by splitting the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) into a General Affairs Council (GAC) and a Foreign Affairs Council (FAC). However, it is not yet clear who will have the ultimate say on the GAC's activities – probably the rotating presidency. 

Delays are also to be expected on the part of High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, who will also be European commissioner for external relations. Although she has already made public appearances, she will only obtain full commissioner status once she has been voted in by the European Parliament, along with the rest of the Barroso II college of commissioners. The expected date for this to happen is 1 February 2010. 

In the meantime, efforts to put in place the European External Action Service (EASS) are underway, with the goal of taking all major decisions by April 2010. According to some sources, EU leaders would like to put in place EASS as early as possible before the UK elections, expected in late spring. 

During these defining moments, Spain will therefore be in a key position to determine how the various institutions relate to each other under the new treaty, especially for matters related to the EU's external representation and deciding the items on the Council agenda. 

Nevertheless, Spain has been adamant in underlining that its role in the institutional structure is one of support and not of competition. Miguel Angel Moratinos, the Spanish foreign minister, spelled out this point: "I would like to state it very clearly: the engagement of the prime minister of Spain and of the entire Spanish government is that we have new European representatives who will lead, give momentum and steer [the Union] through the first semester of 2010.” (EURACTIV 19/12/09

Diego López Garrido referred to the fact that novelties introduced under the Lisbon Treaty, such as the so-called 'citizens' initiative' aimed at triggering a legislative process based on a million signatures, so far exist only in theory. Spain aims to set precedents by developing those tools, he explained. 

Spain will also be the first country to take the EU's helm under the incoming trio of presidencies,  completed by Belgium and Hungary. The new trio follows on from the previous French, Czech and Swedish one. The extent and intensity of the cooperation with the Belgian and Hungarian Presidencies is likely to define the format of future trios. In November 2009, two Spanish diplomats were transferred to the respective Belgian and Hungarian ministries with the aim of liaising better over the trio component. 

European citizenship

The Spanish Presidency aims to ensure consistency with the Swedish Presidency and its flagship Stockholm Programme (EURACTIV 26/11/09) for freedom, security and justice, which was launched at the December 2009 European summit (EURACTIV 14/12/09).

López Garrido said his country will be pushing for the adoption of a non-discrimination directive, to fight against what he described as the worst sin in our societies – violence against women. "We want to address gender violence not only from a national, but from a European perspective," he said. 

Zapatero has been at the forefront of attempts to address the issue of gender balance, and has done so through eye-catching measures such as forming a government in which women outnumber men nine to eight (EURACTIV 14/04/08). Spain is also planning to launch a European Observatory of Domestic Violence. 

Europe in foreign affairs

The introduction of the Lisbon Treaty opens up a host of possibilities for increasing the international stature of the European Union, and according to preliminary statements, Spain will throw its weight behind achieving this goal. Spain will help High Representative Ashton to shape the structure of the new European External Action Service (EEAS), the future European diplomatic corps. But disagreements have already emerged regarding the timing and formation of this new service. 

Moreover, the rotating presidency has now been formally stripped of its international role, since the treaties assign to both Van Rompuy and Ashton the task of representing the Union on the world stage. Spanish Secretary of State López Garrido said the Spanish government will contribute to strengthening rather than overshadowing the standing of the two new EU leaders. 

This apparent discretion is at odds with the Spanish Presidency's stated intention to "enter the Guinness Book of Records with nine or 10 summits," according to López Garrido. The Spanish government has on its agenda EU summits with the US, Russia, Canada, and Mediterranean and Latin American countries. 

Spain has been a proactive force in creating an EU Mediterranean dimension through the Barcelona Process (Euro-Mediterranean partnership) in 1995 and its successor, the Union for the Mediterranean, launched under the French Presidency in July 2008. Setting up the secretariat in Barcelona and selecting the first projects will be the Spanish Presidency's main objective, Zapatero said. In January 2010, the Committee of the Regions, a consultative body, will create a Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly and a closer partnership is likely to emerge with Morocco during a special summit. 

One of the first acts in this respect was the gathering of the foreign ministers of France, Spain, Egypt, Tunis and Jordan on 5 January 2010 to find a compromise candidate for the post of leader of the secretariat of the Union of the Mediterranean. Jordanian Ahmed Masade seems to have gathered sufficient consensus to secure the post (EURACTIV 7/01/2010). The finalisation of this selection process should take place on the 12th of January.

Spain is also keen to strengthen relations between the EU and Latin America, with López Garrido claiming that Spain will organise a summit between the EU and all Latin American countries. This can be considered as a strategic priority considering Spain's economic interests in the region. 

Cuba will also be on the agenda of the Spanish Presidency. Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos embarked in a two-day visit on 18-20 October 2009. The socialist government aims to challenge the common position which was agreed in 1996 on an initiative by then Prime Minister José Maria Aznar. This stance is likely to prove more divisive than initially expected due to the lack of improvement in civil liberties since Fidel Castro stepped down as Cuban leader in favour of his brother Raul. 

A considerable blow to these appeasing intentions has been inflicted by Cuba itself. Cuban airport authorities refused entry to the country to Spanish Socialist MEP Luis Yáñez on 3 January 2010. The MEP, chairman of the parliament delegation for relations with Mercosur, supported dialogue with democratic dissidents in Cuba. Moratinos defined the act as a mistake, but claimed that this would not hinder the proposed review of the relations between the EU and the Caribbean dictatorship: “Isolation, confrontation, the embargo and the blockade [against Cuba]... has produced no result in 50 years.” 

Relations with the United States and the renewal of a strategic agreement with Russia are next on the Spanish Presidency's list of foreign priorities, Zapatero said. 

The EU's enlargement to more countries will also remain high on the agenda, and the Council of Ministers will have to respond to Iceland's membership bid (EURACTIV 09/12/09). It will also attempt to soothe relations between Macedonia and Greece (EURACTIV 08/12/09) and most crucially between the Republic of Cyprus and its Northern part within a tight time-frame (EURACTIV 24/11/09). 

Moreover, Spain might also be questioned regarding its controversial stance on Kosovo, which its shares only with Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Slovakia (EURACTIV 01/12/09). 

In an interview with Spanish newspaper La GacetaEuropean Parliament President Jerzy Buzek expressed perplexity over the existing appeasing stance of the Spanish Presidency towards Cuba. "Nothing has changed in Cuba to justify a new position of the EU," he said.

Buzek added that "exchange of powers between Fidel [Castro] and his brother Raul has not benefited the citizens of the island, democratic change or relations with the EU". 

Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, in a preparatory visit to Madrid on 3 December 2009 said that it was crucial for her "to have discussed in total cooperation with Spain the issues which were to be tackled with the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty". 

"Spain will be the presidency which will define the future of the rotating presidencies," Ashton said, stressing that the logistics had also been discussed during a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos.

In a speech before Spanish ambassadors on 7 October 2009, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, said there are "four main priorities concerning the position of Spain and the position of Europe in the world: first, Latin America, finishing the association agreements in the context of the EU-Latin America summit; secondly, the Mediterranean: we must implement the Union for the Mediterranean, the secretariat and the first projects; thirdly, transatlantic relationships, the relationships with the United States, which we must and can renew with greater strength during the Spanish EU Presidency; and finally the renewal of a strategic agreement with Russia, as this is an essential country for stability and integration in Europe in a broad sense". 

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos hopes that "from 12 January the organisational structure of the secretariat of the Mediterranean Union of Barcelona will be in place […] Once the secretary-general will be appointed, the secretariat will start to function, with the objective of following up on decisions of the Paris summit in 2008, and to prepare the programme for the Barcelona summit, on 7 June".

Speaking at the European Policy Centre think-tank on 8 December 2009, Spanish Secretary of State for EU Affairs Diego López Garrido said that "today we [the EU] are not a global player. We have some expressions of foreign policy. We have approved some important missions, we have adopted some political common positions, but we haven't got a real external policy in Europe". 

Regarding the possible upgrading of relations between the EU and Cuba, a Spanish diplomatic source speaking to Earth Times on 7 December 2009 stated that "it is not fair for Cuba to be subjected to constant scrutiny, when the EU does not do that with other countries which do not have ideal regimes such as Iran or North Korea".

Cristóbal Montoro, responsible for economic policy for the Partido Popular, the centre-right opposition party, described the meeting between Zapatero, Delors, Gonzalez and Solbes of 5 January on economic governance (EURACTIV 6/01/2010 as "the photo of unemployment". It was also "a meeting of socialists," he quipped, coming at a time when most EU governments are led by centre-right parties. 

Bruno DelayeFrench ambassador to Spain, speaking before the French Senate on 9 December 2009 underlined how in the debate concerning the financial perspectives for 2014-2020, Spain “will defend the CAP, cohesion policy and the support for ultra-peripheral regions. Spain will receive less cohesion funds in the future. There are signals that Spain will be hostile to maintaining the British rebate. Nonetheless, the preservation of the CAP mobilises less attention in Spain than in France. Spanish public opinion does not share the same concerns on agriculture as French public opinion does. Spain has rejected its rural origins.” 

Lorraine Mullally  director of the British eurosceptic think-tank Open Europe stated that "the Spanish government's determination to push for new EU social legislation over the next six months and beyond should ring alarm bells at Westminster. The UK Conservatives have said that if they win next year's election, they will fight for control over social and employment policy to be returned to the UK where it can be properly controlled closer the people it affects. This kind of legislation already represents a huge regulatory burden in the UK, and the Spanish government's talk of turning the EU into a 'factory of rights' tells us fundamental reform is more urgent than ever."

Carlos Buhigas Schubert, an analyst in the European Commission's Spanish Team Europe, stated (EURACTIV 07/12/09) that "as frequently happens with presidencies, the agenda of the Spanish Presidency looks to me too ambitious and, as a result, rather unfocused. In my view it has set itself far too many objectives in too many areas, which will be difficult to achieve. However, a number of areas that will show a bit of colour will be the transatlantic agenda, EU relations with Latin America and a renewed debate on social policy, including issues that have been actively promoted by the current Spanish government like gender equality and the fight against domestic violence". 

Nicolas Robindirector at Interel Cabinet Stewart, claims that, amongst the other, water sustainability will be a central theme of the presidency “the Spanish government will work on the strategy for water scarcity and droughts envisaged for 2012 and on the revision of the drinking water Directive. Steps will also be taken to promote the assessment and management of critical water-related problems such as extreme events (flood, excess water, water scarcity and accidental water pollution), climate change and endangered ecosystems.” 

BusinessEurope Director-General Philippe de Buck stressed that restoring growth should be the first objective of the Spanish Presidency and the new European Commission. "The Lisbon Strategy was decided in 2000 at the height of the 'Internet bubble'. Decision-makers were perhaps too euphoric. In 2010 – under the Spanish Presidency – the Lisbon Strategy has to be renewed. We are still in the midst of the crisis, so we can expect the same ambitions but greater commitments. We have to urge for a strategy that puts Europe back on track." 

A November paper drafted jointly by the three industry federations of Spain (CEOE), Belgium (FEB-VBO) and Hungary (MGYOSZ), proposed priorities which referred not simply to individual rotating presidencies, but rather to the whole trio. In addition to the aforementioned implementation of the Lisbon Treaty and forging a unitary foreign policy, the industry federation trio suggested: implementing structural reforms aimed at corporate competitiveness so as to establish new conditions for growth; securing energy supply and combating climate change; examining and putting forth a vision of the Europe that we want to continue to build. 

ACCA, the global body for professional accountants, produced a paper suggesting the possible focus themes of the Spanish Presidency. It stresses that Spain should "pay serious attention to improving the single market; doing so would help create more jobs and help member states continue their recovery from recession". 

"Key improvements that can be made to the single market include its extension to areas currently not included, such as the financial services sector. Currently, services make up almost 70% of GDP and employment in the EU's member states, yet there is very little trade in services: less than 5% of GDP," the paper stated. 

Juan Carlos del Olmo, Secretary General of WWF Spain calls on his country "to move forward with a new development model in which the environmental objectives are fully integrated into the policies and the ecological footprint is a key indicator to measure whether we are moving forward the right direction. The unprecedented decline in species, the mounting evidence of ecosystems degradation, the exhaustion of natural resources and the impacts of climate change on all these clearly show the vital need for new thinking, new urgency and new policies."

  • 12 Jan. 2010: meeting of high representatives of the Union of the Mediterranean to elect secretary-general
  • 18 Jan. 2010: Spanish Presidency to present its priorities in the European Parliament.
  • 11-19 Jan. 2010: Hearings in the European Parliament of the nominated commissioners. 
  • 21 Jan. 2010: Launch of the 2010 European Year on Poverty and Social Exclusion. 
  • 26 Jan. 2010: Vote in the European Parliament on nominating the full Commission. 
  • February 2010: Extraordinary summit of EU leaders on the economic situation in Europe. 
  • March 2010: Spring summit, expected to adopt the post-Lisbon 'EU 2020' strategy'.
  • 5-6 March 2010: Informal Meeting of Foreign Ministers in Cordoba.
  • 8 March 2010: EU-Morocco summit in Granada.
  • 10 April 2010: EU-Pakistan summit in Madrid.
  • 14 May 2010: EU-Mexico summit in Santander.
  • 15-19 May 2010: EU-Latin America and Carribean Summit in Madrid.  
  • June 2010: EU summit, conclusions of the Reflection Group due.  
  • 5-6 June 2010: EU-Egypt summit in Barcelona
  • 5-7 June 2010: II Summit of the Union for the Mediterranean in Barcelona.

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