Spanish EU Presidency ‚to set precedents‘

Spain unveiled on Tuesday (8 December) its priorities for its
six-month stint at the EU’s helm during the first half of 2010. Spain
will be the first country to take the rotating presidency since the
nomination of a permanent EU president and a High Representative for
Foreign Affairs.

[] "Spain will create precedents," said Diego López Garrido, Spanish
Secretary of State for EU Affairs, speaking at a public event in
Brussels organised by the European Policy Centre, a think-tank. 

López Garrido, an experienced politician who represented his country
at the convention in charge of drafting the now-defunct EU
Constitution, said that his country’s EU presidency will be "very
particular," as it marks the transition "from the old Nice model to the
new Lisbon Treaty era". 

He also stressed that Spain had coordinated its work programme with
Belgium and Hungary, the next two countries to assume the rotating EU
presidency, in the format of the so-called ‚trio of presidencies‘ (EurActiv 30/10/09).
The three countries adopted a common programme for the next 18 months
on 7 December, in the framework of the General Affairs Council, he

For the Spanish Presidency, meanwhile, López Garrido enumerated four main priorities. 

Jobs and the economy 

Primary among these is the economy, with recovering from the economic crisis and creating jobs on top of the agenda. 

Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the euro zone. The
average level of unemployment in the euro zone stood at 9.8% in
October, while in Spain it was 19.3%, second only to Latvia, which
stands at 20.9%. 

Job creation is also the highest priority of the Party of European
Socialists, which met for its annual congress in Prague yesterday.
Spain has a socialist government, led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero,
leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers‘ Party (PSOE). 

López Garrido cited the adoption of the post-Lisbon ‚EU 2020‘
strategy for the next ten years among his country’s economic priorities
(EurActiv 19/11/09).
He said that the biggest challenge for the new strategy would be
monitoring targets, as the Lisbon agenda for growth and jobs had set
targets but omitted to monitor the countries‘ performance. 

Also, he singled out the approval of a new means of supervising the
international financial system as an important goal of the Spanish

Lisbon Treaty implementation 

The second priority, the Spanish secretary of state said, is the
implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, which he described as very similar
to the defunct European Constitution. 

"We have the paradox of having the tools without the policies," he
said, referring to the fact that novelties introduced under the Lisbon
Treaty – such as a so-called ‚Citizens‘ Initiative‘ to trigger the
legislative process by collecting one million signatures from a
significant number of countries – exist only in theory. Spain is keen
to set precedents in developing these tools, he explained. 


The third priority, López Garrido said, is "citizenship". 

"We think that the Europe of the 21st century should be based on
tight complicity with its citizens," he said, criticising the fact that
today’s EU citizens see the Union as a far-away entity. He said his
country harbours ambitions to "close the gap between Europe and the
people" by pushing a more ambitious social agenda. 

More specifically, he said the Spanish Presidency is planning to
elaborate an action plan for implementing the ‚Stockholm Programme‘ for
freedom, security and justice in the EU. The Stockholm Programme is due
to be adopted at the 10-11 December EU summit (EurActiv 12/10/09). 

López Garrido said his country will be pushing for the adoption of a
non-discrimination directive, to fight against what he said is 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. 

Foreign affairs 

The fourth priority, the Spanish high official explained, is foreign
affairs, namely converting the EU into a genuine global player. 

"Today we 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 do not have a real
external policy in Europe," the Spanish official said. 

With the Lisbon Treaty, however, the Union will have very important
instruments for foreign policy – the president of the EU Council, who
represents the Union abroad, the High Representative for Foreign
Affairs and Security, who represents the Union as "a real foreign
minister", and the European External Action Service (EEAS), he said. 

For López Garrido, the EEAS could be the brightest, strongest
diplomatic service in the world. The service is also the most important
challenge presented by the Lisbon Treaty, he pointed out, saying that
Spain wants its organisation and structure to be finalised before

"Before April, we will have the new European External Action
Service. That’s our objective," he said, adding that there is broad
agreement at European level to achieve this. 

However, this objective appears to contradict targets already
announced. Speaking in the European Parliament last week, Catherine
Ashton, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, said she
would begin work immediately to create the new service. Her objective,
she said, is to "present a proposal" that would allow the Council to
make a decision by the end of April (EurActiv 03/12/09). 

‚A very external presidency‘ 

Answering questions from the audience, López Garrido said the
Spanish Presidency will aim to strengthen the Council president and the
High Representative, and that Spain will not overshadow the new Council
president. It will be up to Herman van Rompuy to chair the record
number of bilateral summits to be held in the next six months, he

"We are going to enter the Guinness Book of Records with nine or 10
summits," he said, citing the EU-US summit, the EU-Russia summit, the
EU-Canada summit, the EU-Mediterranean summit, the first-ever
EU-Morocco summit, and another gathering Latin American leaders. 

Morocco is a major economic partner for Spain, which led the
so-called ‚Barcelona Process‘ until the ‚Mediterranean
Union‘ initiative introduced by the French EU Presidency moved the
focus away from Spain’s second-largest city (EurActiv 14/07/08). 

"We will be a very external presidency," the Spanish politician
said, adding that his country’s ambition is to upgrade the existing
legal base of agreements with a number of external partners. 

From the outside, the EU and the USA are seen as a single entity
referred to as "the West". However, except the North Atlantic Treaty,
concluded under a completely different context, there are "no real
agreements" on economic and political issues, he lamented. 

Asked by EurActiv what could be expected from the reflection group
on the future of Europe, chaired by former Spanish Prime Minister
Felipe González, López Garrido said an announcement will be made during
the Spanish Presidency in the form of a short paper – no more than
20-30 pages. 

"But I’m sure it will be very provocative," he added.