Spain took over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU today, the first full term under the Lisbon treaty rules which introduced two new, powerful institutional figures, the president of the European Council and the high representative for foreign and security policy.
One of the major challenges for the Spanish presidency will be to find effective ways of co-operating with these figures, who will share some of the presidency’s traditional roles in chairing international summits and meetings of EU leaders.
Miguel Ángel Moratinos, Spain’s foreign minister, has offered to put the Spanish government’s diplomatic resources at the disposal of the new Council president and the high representative. “There will be no competition between the Spanish authorities and the new figures,” Moratinos said on 18 December at a press conference in Brussels on the priorities for the Spanish presidency. But his comments have not quashed rumours that Spain is reluctant to give up the rights and prerogatives of the country holding the presidency.
Although Herman Van Rompuy, the Council president, represents the EU in international summits at head of state or government level, the Spanish presidency has organised seven summits between the EU and major international partners, including the US, Latin American countries, Mexico and Morocco. These will be held in Spain and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain’s prime minister, will play a major role in these events even though Van Rompuy will be formally representing the EU. In contrast, Belgium, which takes over the rotating presidency on 1 July, has said that all international summits during its six months at the helm will be held in Brussels.
Moratinos is also holding an informal meeting of foreign ministers in Córdoba on 5-6 March even though Catherine Ashton, the high representative, is responsible for foreign policy. Ashton’s main priority in the first few months of 2010 is expected to be the European External Action Service, a new EU diplomatic corps made up of diplomats and officials from the Council, the European Commission and member states’ foreign services. EU leaders are expected to approve a proposal for the service at a summit in Brussels on 25 March so it can be launched before the end of the year.
Ashton will chair all meetings of EU foreign ministers in Brussels while all other formal ministerial meetings, including finance, environment, agriculture, and justice and home affairs, will be chaired by the relevant Spanish minister.
Under the Lisbon treaty, the role of the Council president will be to prepare European Council sessions, “to drive its work forward” and to “facilitate cohesion and consensus” with the Council.
Van Rompuy, who will start work formally on 4 January, has already stressed that he is intent on listening to all member states and ensuring that their views are taken into account. He has already visited many EU leaders and on 15 December he travelled to Madrid to meet Zapatero to discuss co-operation with the Spanish presidency.
Priorities of the Spanish presidency:
Agree new anti-discrimination directive;
Tackle violence against women across the EU, including setting up a monitoring centre;
Make progress on the Stockholm Programme of measures to fight terrorism and organised crime, strengthen legal rights and protections, tackle illegal immigration and encourage legal migration and integration;
Finalise agreement on new financial market regulation, including setting up of new supervisory committees;
Agree co-ordinated strategy to address effects of economic crisis and reduce public deficits.
Main summit dates:
EU-Morocco 7-8 March
EU-Canada 10 May
EU-Mexico 15-16 May
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EU-Latin American and Caribbean countries 18-19 May
EU-US 25 May
EU-Egypt 5 June
EU-Mediterranean 7 June
Van Rompuy has said his focus as Council president will be on boosting the EU’s economic growth to ensure it can continue to afford the high social standards that characterise the “European social model”. He has said the EU should double the forecast 1% economic growth rate.
He has also called an informal meeting of EU leaders on 11 February to prepare the March European Council meeting. Van Rompuy wants the informal meeting to allow a frank exchange of views among EU leaders. He has proposed not holding a press conference after the event to maintain maximum discretion about the content of the talks.
At the March European Council meeting, EU leaders are expected to agree a new strategy for growth and competitiveness to replace the Lisbon strategy, which had set 2010 as the deadline for achieving its goals. José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president, has presented his proposal for a new strategy called ‘EU 2020’ which focuses on promoting innovation, boosting low-carbon technologies and targeting public spending on measures that improve competitiveness.
Barroso and the Spanish presidency have stressed the need for a new approach in the follow-up to the Lisbon strategy in which countries face censure for failing to meet their commitments in terms of improving the general competitiveness of their economies. “We want a strategy that produces results and…there are consequences for those member states which do not fulfil its aims,” Moratinos said on 18 December.