Spain to push for EU markets in energy, eCommerce

Spain will push for a common European market in energy and eCommerce during its six-month EU presidency, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero told the European Parliament yesterday (20 January), adding that the EU’s ‘2020 Strategy’ for economic and social renewal would form the cornerstone of his tenure.

Presenting his country’s EU presidency priorities in Strasbourg, Zapatero made a passionate appeal for reducing the Union’s energy dependence, which he said had increased by 9% in the last decade.

These imports, which amounted to 67 billion euros per year, represented wasted monies that the EU was “transferring to other countries,” the Spanish premier warned.

“We have to put in place a common market for energy,” said Zapatero, adding that this was the best recipe for reducing Europe’s energy dependence. He said energy interconnectors and common regulatory rules were the pillars of a common energy market.

Zapatero also said his country would push for investment in digital technologies, as 40% of Europe’s growth resulted from them. However, he lamented that Europe did not possess a digital market and eCommerce was confined to national boundaries.

“If we boost digital trade, we would also boost growth in a sector with a great job creation potential,” he said.

The Spanish prime minister also called for the development of the electric car industry at EU level. Electric cars would meet several goals, including boosting innovation in technology, he said. Zapatero also made a case for improving the quality of training in European universities.

‘EU 2020’ strategy

Repeatedly using the word “change”, Zapatero said the cornerstone of his country’s EU presidency would be the adoption of the ‘EU 2020’ strategy, which is due to replace the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs, adopted in the Portuguese capital ten years ago. 

Within this strategy, he said his country would push for a “new social pact” between enterprises and workers as “social sustainability” needed to be enshrined in the new agenda.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso backed Zapatero, calling for “strong coordination mechanisms” to accompany the EU 2020 strategy. He warned that if “some leaders” continued to oppose strong mechanisms of economic governance, as had been the case with the Lisbon Strategy, Europe would remain at best a zone of sluggish growth.

“EU 2020 is to connect the European project to the needs of our citizens,” Barroso argued, indicating that he envisaged a three-step approach to win member-state approval for the new strategy – the informal EU Council on 11 February, the 25-26 March Spring EU summit, and the 17-18 June summit, at which the final strategy is expected to be adopted.

In the meantime, consultations with the European Parliament will be ongoing, he said.

Berlin under fire

Barroso’s comments seemed to be directed at German Economy Minister Rainer Brüderle, who reacted negatively against what he described as plans by the Spanish EU Presidency to “sanction” member states who do not comply with the European Union’s growth objectives (EURACTIV 12/01/10).

Reacting to the debate, Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt said the big question was whether EU countries were ready to change the methods of the failed Lisbon Strategy.

“We need carrots, and we need sticks. One should not be discouraged from the statements of the German minister. I encourage you to continue,” Verhofstadt told Zapatero, adding: “This Parliament is with you.”

Socialist and Democrat group leader Martin Schulz also backed Spain for its approach on the EU 2020 strategy, and said that the Lisbon Strategy had failed “because of foot-dragging by member states”.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-chair of the Green/EFA group, backed Zapatero for his initiative on energy security, stressing that energy savings were one important dimension, especially when related to housing. He added that such an initiative at EU level would also create many jobs.

Cohn-Bendit also supported Zapatero on electric cars, pointing out however that developing tramways could be an even more successful initiative. He appealed for a “European initiative for tramways”.

Positions

Joseph Daul MEP  (France), chairman of the centre-right European People's Party group in the European Parliament, was in general positive about Spain's priorities but made an ideological remark: "To be honest, Prime Minister, I'm not sure that the solutions that you and your political family are advocating for getting out of the crisis, and for turning a social Europe into reality, are the most appropriate."

Daul pointed out that "with record unemployment of almost 20% and a public deficit close to 11%, Spain, it must be said, is one of the worst-off countries in Europe."

Praising the Spanish Presidency as "a breath of fresh air for Europe," Socialist and Democrat group leader Martin Schulz  (Germany) said that it could "bring the EU to a new level" during the next six months. Spain is one of the few EU countries currently led by a socialist government. 

In his statement, Schulz also renewed his attack on bankers, who have received billions in bail-out assistance, but continue "speculating over citizens' money". He called for tougher supervision of the economy.

On behalf of the far-left GUE/NGL groupMEP Willy Meyer (Spain) criticised the Spanish Presidency. "My group does not share this programme because it does not deal with the fundamental issues nor advance a change of economic policy towards a model based on public intervention in the economy to regulate the market," he stated.

"Europe is undergoing unprecedented levels of unemployment as a consequence of an economic model forged in the Lisbon Strategy. This crisis is the fruit of a lack of regulation of the market and the privatisation of strategic sectors. The Spanish Presidency programme does not offer much originality despite the 'innovating Europe' slogan," Meyer added. 

MEP Timothy Kirkhope (Conservatives, UK) said that the Spanish EU Presidency "stumbled from its first day in office" with the idea of introducing sanctions to enforce the EU 2020 strategy. He said that this "Socialist command-and-control approach" was doomed to fail, and advised the Spanish prime minister to "put his own house in order" first, referring to the high rate of unemployment and the difficult economic situation in Spain.

The European Trade Union Confederation  (ETUC) called on the Spanish Presidency to focus on employment and climate change and to strengthen the European Social Model.

In a statement, it said the first challenge for the Spanish Presidency will be to pull Europe out of the crisis by giving priority to the fight against unemployment and precarious labour markets.

ETUC further warned against any introducing premature exit strategies from the crisis. The European trade unions also stated their will to improve the European social model by reinforcing collective bargaining and workers' rights as a consequence of the free movement of persons and capital. A social progress protocol to strengthen the European social model, attached to the European treaties, should be discussed, ETUC said.

Background

Spain took on the European Union's six-month rotating presidency on 1 January 2010 at a defining moment for the bloc, marked by the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and 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 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on the Spanish Presidency).

The relations of the Spanish Presidency with the holders of two new EU top jobs are expected to set a precedent for the future institutional balance of the European architecture for many years to come.

Spain said it will act in close coordination with the next two 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 and said they will strive to provide a model for fostering greater consistency in the European Union's leadership (EURACTIV 30/10/09).

Unemployment and consumer prices in Spain increased more significantly than expected in December. Unemployment in particular hit an historic high, recording its highest levels since 1996, the Spanish press reported (EURACTIV 05/01/10).

Timeline

  • 11 Feb. 2010: Extraordinary EU summit to discuss economic and social matters, EU 2020 strategy.
  • 25-26 March 2010: Spring EU summit to flesh out EU 2020 agenda.
  • 17-18 June 2010: EU summit to adopt final EU 2020 strategy.

Further Reading