European Council on Foreign Relations

EU presidency baton goes to Spain

As 2009 comes to a close, Spain is getting ready to take over the Presidency of the EU from Sweden. Economic and institutional dilemmas will play a role in shaping the Spanish presidency's agenda as it works towards giving Europe the ‘one voice' it says it desires and, more importantly, desperately needs. In what many see as a difficult and confusing time for Europe, Spain will need to define and strengthen the ‘new look' Europe's role in the world, post Lisbon.

 Most importantly, Spain needs to realise that this is not the moment for national glory - the goal is not to be remembered as the ‘country which held the rotating EU presidency in the first half of 2010'. Recent history shows that if people forget the intricate details of who did want and what bureaucratic procedures you set up during your presidency, then you have probably done a good job - see the Czechs.

Neither is the goal to be the nation which did some pretty amazing stuff. It is about Europe doing its bit on the world stage. This will be the first time that the Presidency's foreign office will have to take a secondary role. Spain will need to lead by example: national interests - such as Spain's stance on Kosovo - must be put aside if Europe is to have any hope of speaking with one voice.

Sweden saw the Lisbon Treaty come alive. It is now for Spain to give it life. The goals of the Treaty - namely giving Europe one voice and the capacity to be a real world actor - need to be put in place. One arm of this agenda is the creation of the External Action Service under Cathy Asthon's leadership. Ashton will require Spain's support in bringing the Brussels' institutions and member states together. The fusion of Brussels and national capitals will be both a necessary and difficult process.

Getting over the economic crisis will remain a European priority during and after Spain's presidency, and beyond. It is no secret that Spain, still reeling from the financial crisis more than most EU member states, is in a bit of an economic mess. With one of the highest rate of unemployment in Europe at 20%, Spain must ensure that it does not allow national concerns to dominate the European agenda.

The importance of using the presidency to replace the failed Lisbon Agenda of the past 10 years - Europe's dream of creating a competitive, knowledge-based economy that can compete with the US and emerging powers - cannot be overestimated. Spain need to use the next six months to steer Europe into a deep and meaningful discussion about it's economic model, which needs to include things like the regulation of the EU and national markets and monetary policy. There have already been calls for the establishment of a ‘green economy' - an economy that does not rely on carbon emissions and continues to grow in a carbon reduced world - as Europe's next big project after the enlargement era.

Institutional uncertainty means it is a confusing time to take over the EU presidency. Hard hitting issues, like the economic crisis and climate change, mean it is a presidency filled with responsibility. But the institutional changes and global challenges mean it is a time when Europe should strive to speak with one voice, and a presidency which can allow it to.

For more...Listen to the latest edition of the podcast ECFR reports, where Jose Ignacio Torreblance talks about the big issues facing the Spanish EU Presidency.



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