Presidencia europea española: primer diagnóstico

por María Ángeles Muñoz, 25 de marzo de 2010


1. Spain’s lack of leadership during the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union
Around a year ago, in February 2009 to be precise, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced the priorities of his administration during the Spanish EU Presidency to the Association of European Journalists. [1] These priorities were focused on three grand ideas:
·                    Advancing towards a new economic model.
·                    Restating and intensifying Social Europe – a Europe that shows solidarity.
·                    Adapting to the new multipolar context of a Union that should have “a single voice” and act as such.
The Prime Minister indicated that, during the first six months of 2010, Spain would take over the EU Presidency in “complex and uncertain times” for the international community and for the European Union. That’s why the presidency had to be “demanding and committed.”
At the same time, Mr. Zapatero stated that we need a strong Europe – one that knows how to lead. European leadership in these times of crisis will determine, to a great extent, when and how the member states will overcome it. He emphasized the need to continue building “the Europe of integration, of solidarity, of innovation, of competitiveness, of education and of citizenship, and the Europe with a single voice in the world, once and for all.”
Analyzing it now, this sort of “speech for headlines” is quite unrealistic. If we analyze each of its objectives, not only will we see that these commitments have gone unmet, but also that the Spanish EU presidency has shirked its responsibility for these commitments – much to our dismay. All the Spanish parliamentary groups (PSOE, PP, CIU, and PNV) actually reached an agreement about the Spanish EU Presidency and signed a joint motion regarding the objectives of the Spanish term emphasizing the need to seek the “political momentum” so that the EU would recover “financial stability, economic growth, and job creation.” In the text of that motion, economic recovery and job creation were high in the list of priorities, particularly when Spain was supposed to take over the presidency of the European Union while suffering record national unemployment.  
For this reason, the first request made by the four Spanish parliamentary groups to the Zapatero administration was to spur economic recovery and to promote a sustainable growth model in order to create quality jobs. With this objective in mind, the groups recommended the Executive to monitor the job market and its evolution in the continent through the European Council’s ordinary debates during the Spanish EU presidency.
Other parallel ventures should help strengthen competitiveness of Europe’s economic sectors through reform policies to boost productivity, to reduce structural economic costs, and to adopt new measures for the promotion of tourism’s sustainable development and innovation.
Regarding European representation, the signers put as a priority the effective application of the Lisbon Treaty and the necessary political and institutional renewal using the “momentum” created by the establishment of a permanent Presidency of the European Council and the new EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
As we could see, none of these issues has been successfully addressed as to provide a necessary boost. The obvious need – also included in the motion – was to strengthen Europe’s leadership; however, to say the least, we have been wobbling in crucial moments. 
It was precisely the first day of the Spanish EU presidency when the three new leaders (the full-time President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy; the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, and the head of the EU's rotating presidency, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero) tried to reflect an ideal of political unity in order to develop a plan that would turn Europe into the world’s most competitive knowledge-based economy in the next ten years. They were together for the first time to make a presentation of the main objectives during this new period: combating the economic crisis and climate change. [2] Nonetheless, the confusion that has generated the activation of a “tricephalus” Europe in some diplomatic circles has allowed Mr. Zapatero to withdraw from his real responsibilities in crisis management situations. As a warning, just in case, he said that if someone calls Europe, it would be “advisable for the phone to ring in the office of Mr. van Rompuy.” With this statement, he showed his unwillingness to use the executive powers granted to the rotating presidency of the Union. Mr. Zapatero’s justification for his dereliction of political duty was the launch of the Lisbon Treaty and the new competencies it had established.
Yet, in spite of this explanation, the European leadership was immediately put in doubt; even Mr. Zapatero’s authority was questioned because of Spain’s economic crisis and rampant unemployment, which doubles the percent average of the European Union. The only prescription that the Spanish president had in mind was his appeal to European unity and the request for a joint EU commitment with the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy.
The European media showed their skepticism with Mr. Zapatero’s proposals. Next morning, the editorial of the Financial Times (FT) described the work program that he proposed for the Spanish EU presidency as “remarkably anodyne.”[3] According to the British publication, Mr. Zapatero’s principal mistake has been to make the new Lisbon treaty the focus of the Spanish presidency since it had already come into force. Instead, the Spanish EU Presidency should have focused on solving the economic crisis. As we mentioned before, the publication indicated that Mr. Zapatero’s program was remarkably anodyne even by the undemanding standards of most European Union presidencies. It also warned about Spain making the all too typical EU mistake: concentrating on institutional arrangements instead of dealing with real-world problems that trouble citizens. The editorial revealed a feeling of great uncertainty regarding Mr. Zapatero’s abilities to mend Europe’s ways, particularly if we take into account the “unfortunate beginning” of Spain’s six-month presidency. Although the editorial considered that Spain’s almost 20-per-cent unemployment is a negative development, FT did not focus so much on Spain but on Mr. Zapatero’s skills and found him distracted perhaps by his domestic travails. In fact, the editorial contrasted this with the performance of Spain’s former Prime Ministers Felipe González y José María Aznar during their EU's rotating presidencies.
The same trend was to be found in The Economist, which emphasized Mr. Zapatero’s lack of credibility. In addition, the publication had no faith in long-term grand strategies, in which there is nothing concrete in order to act immediately. For that reason, the article predicted the failure of the “2020 Strategy” for Europe and highlighted that the old ‘“Lisbon strategy’ failed wretchedly in its aim of making the EU the world’s most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010.” [4]
Specifically, the objectives suggested by Spain within the 2020 Strategy aim to increase employment from the current 69 percent to 75 percent of the EU workforce aged 20-64 and that 3 percent of the EU's GDP should be invested in R&D. Another goal was to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent compared to 1990 levels, although the European offer still stands for an increase to 30 percent of emissions reduction “if the (international) conditions are right.” [5] However, these plans are a matter of opinion as long as there are no viability plans developed to accomplish the goals. 
It’s precisely here where the Spanish Presidency has it all wrong because it’s difficult to go further and optimize the work of European institutions if we don’t invest time in solving the main problem: the economic crisis and its impact on the economy of the European middle-class. In the same fashion, the general objectives on climate change will not be worth the paper they are written on if there is no explicit commitment of member-states as required by the European Union. Mr. van Rompuy had indicated that the EU must continue being the driving force regarding this issue; however, how can that be possible if he himself has acknowledged Europe’s failure in the Copenhagen Summit? Indeed, his own statements speak of Europe’s inefficiency, with leaders ready to deliver institutional speeches that are filled with very good intentions but with very little content and almost non-existent practical political implications.
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s speech is the perfect example of what we mentioned before. A year ago, Mr. Zapatero spoke of a “very ambitious” presidential agenda with more transformational than managerial tasks and described Spain’s contribution during the first semester of 2010 as a challenge going beyond governance and thinking more “in statesmanship terms.” That is why he decided to seek consensus with all Spanish political parties in parliament and the autonomous regions of the country. Once again, nothing came of that; the Zapatero administration could not reach a basic agreement on economics with the Opposition –nor could they make any significant progress on territorial issues. Regarding job creation, today Spain has record unemployment; nonetheless, the Zapatero administration keeps repeating that we will soon see the end of the crisis. It is a lot of hot air that only makes good intentions go sour and undermines the solidity of the Government and its European image. Only the so-called policies for “gender equality” introduced in the program of gender ideology – a priority for the Government – have been actively endorsed in Europe.
2. Clash between Spain’s foreign policy and Europe’s position on international affairs
It is also worth analyzing the objectives proposed by the president in regards to European foreign policy. When it comes to future EU accession processes, Mr. Zapatero has shown his inclination to support Croatia’s efforts to join the European Union and to give wings to Turkey’s “desire” to a hypothetical accession. Given the express support always shown by Mr. Zapatero regarding Turkey’s admission into the European Union, Turkish representatives had set great hopes on his presidency. Further evidence of this are the recent visits to Spain of Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Both took advantage of their visits to remind the administration how much they trust Mr. Zapatero in their push to join the EU. Regardless of the Spanish EU Presidency’s desires and efforts, this is not the best moment for a Turkish EU candidacy.[6] In addition to the negotiation freeze of most of the chapters, the political situation during these last years has not helped Turkey’s cause because the European countries with more leverage in the negotiations, with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel at the helm, have been very explicit in their opposition and have proposed instead a “privileged partnership” – something that Turkey has described as unacceptable. [7]
The boost of the Spanish EU Presidency to Turkey’s wishes puts the Spanish leader in bad standing with the rest of the Union, particularly when he knows all too well the real priorities of member states at this very moment. By clashing with Europe’s real intentions, Mr. Zapatero has been hopelessly pigeonholed in foreign policy issues. This has become evident at the moment of crystallizing the rest of the president’s specific international goals. 
Mr. Zapatero wanted to give a Euro-American imprint to his presidency but it never came to be. What we have seen instead in regards to Ibero-American relations are agreements and disagreements with the governments of Cuba and Venezuela – and Spain’s indirect “guardianship” of the Castro regime. We must take into account how delicate the situation has been due to the infringement of human rights in Cuba, the death of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and the current hunger strikes to denounce this situation. The Spanish EU Presidency has also clashed with the Union’s majority position regarding Cuba. Let’s see how. On March 11, the European Parliament approved a resolution with an overwhelming majority – 509 votes to 30 with 14 abstentions – strongly condemning the “avoidable and cruel” death of Zapata on February 23 after a hunger strike of 85 days. The resolution also warned about the “fatal consequences” regarding the continuation of another prisoner’s hunger strike – Guillermo Fariñas who started his protest on February 24. In this document – previously agreed with the main political parties, including conservatives and socialists – MEPs also repeat their call to the Cuban government for the “immediate and unconditional” release of all political prisoners and deplored the absence of any “significant signs” of response by Havana in this regard.
This EU document entails a strong condemnation of Cuba’s government and it has also placed a new obstacle for the Spanish Presidency’s hopes to further the eventual normalization of EU-Cuba relations. To be precise, Mr. Zapata’s death and the resulting condemnation from the European Parliament can complicate Spain’s wishes to seek the derogation of the Common Position – a document that the EU drafted unilaterally in 1996 demanding Havana to make progress towards human rights and democracy.[8]
Regarding this document, the Spanish Government – particularly Spain’s Foreign Affairs Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos – had been in favor of replacing it by a cooperation treaty previously agreed with Cuba. In contrast, the European Parliament has asked EU leaders to “step up action” to demand the release of political prisoners and to “immediately” begin “a structured dialogue” with Cuban civil society. This request represents a solid European position that goes in opposite direction to the Spanish Government’s position – an administration that has always disregarded Cuban dissidents and civil society since Mr. Zapatero came to power.
In regards to Venezuela, the controversy is alive and well since it was revealed that the Chávez regime has been providing sanctuary to members of the terrorist group ETA, sparking cross accusations about Spain’s justice system. The controversy arose after Spanish judge Eloy Velasco drew up a bill of indictment pointing out that there were signs of “cooperation” between the Chávez government and the supposed alliance of the terrorist organization ETA and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla. The image of Spanish diplomacy has been tarnished by this issue due to the intervention of the Foreign Affairs MinisterMiguel Ángel Moratinos and his “soft” tone when asking for information (more than for explanations) to the president of Venezuela. Political interference, once again encroaching upon the independence of the justice system, affects negatively the image of the Spanish EU Presidency, even more when the administration looks weak when threatened with a revenge by Venezuela against Spanish and European economic interests.
Regarding the objectives with Africa, Mr. Zapatero has preferred to focus on the European relationship and promotion of EU-Morocco ties – a country that was invited to a bilateral meeting on March 8. He has overlapped this initiative with the main objectives within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership: the establishment of the Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean, the Second Summit of the Union for the Mediterranean, and the sectoral ministerial meetings. On the relationship with Morocco and the first EU Summit with this country that took place in Granada, the Spanish Government has been strongly pressed to work on the recognition of human rights in the Sahara region (Mr. Zapatero had formerly expressed an explicit commitment on this issue.) However, the Spanish Prime Minister has responded skirting the controversial issue and saying that it is an issue more in the realm of the United Nations. Mr. Zapatero has forgotten once again the EU request to Morocco, done by none other than the permanent president of the European Council Herman van Rompuy, for improvements to the situation of human rights in the Sahara region – in particular of their defenders (a veiled reference to Aminatou Haidar and other Sahrawis, victims of political persecution by Rabat.) Mr. van Rompuy also expressed the EU’s “great interest” to see progress in respecting fundamental liberties and human rights in Morocco – now a European Union privileged partner, enjoying “advanced status” that still needs to be specified. In contrast to Europe’s criteria, Mr. Zapatero was more inclined to work in favor of Morocco’s “modernization” and moving away from emphasizing respect for human rights.
Lastly, at the beginning of his EU presidency, Mr. Zapatero suggested that the relationship between Europe and the United States should be one of “allies and partners” and, therefore, Europe should “rise to the challenge” and assume more responsibility in peace and international security issues. Regarding this matter, it is useful to remember President Obama's decision to skip the EU-US summit in order to cut back on foreign travel. Instead, the American president decided to travel to Asia, more focused on the White House’s new strategic goals and away from pro-European policies. Brussels still cannot comprehend the errors in communication between the Spanish EU presidency and American officials.
3. Comparing the current Spanish EU presidency and the former one led by the José María Aznar administration
One of the most remarkable elements of the current Spanish EU presidency is neither to be found in the realm of political achievements nor in the international impact of the Spanish Government’s work; it is the estimated cost of this presidency. From the beginning, Mr. Zapatero had all intentions of taking maximum advantage of his six months in charge of the EU presidency and pretended to parade it in the court of public opinion as a foreign policy achievement of his own making. The Spanish Prime Minister saw here an opportunity to polish his tarnished credibility since the Office of the Presidency has international projection. That is the reason behind the 97-million-euro initial cost estimate of the six-month EU presidency, according to the proposal presented by Spanish diplomat Nicolás Martínez-Fresno, High Representative of the Government of Spain for the Spanish EU Presidency and one of Mr. Zapatero’s right-hand men. This diplomat is the head of an organizing committee that has maintained numerous meetings with representatives of several ministries belonging to the committee. In addition, the Foreign Affairs Ministry has added a layer of fifteen officials to Spain’s permanent representation in Brussels and has also stopped filling some positions – for example, at several consulates – in order to have more personnel available during the preparatory works for the presidency. [9]
Those organizing this presidency have spared no efforts or funds. Knowing all too well the scope of Spain’s national debt and the actual situation of the country to add new debt to the General State Budget, one cannot understand how the Zapatero administration could fritter away such amount of money without a positive return for the nation as the end purpose. The final cost of the event can be double the amount spent by the 2002 Spanish EU presidency. On that occasion, Spain spent 48 million euros.
At that time, the European Union was formed by fifteen countries and ten other candidates joined shortly after, having participated as guests in many of the Community’s meetings. During the 2002 Spanish EU presidency, many events took place: Two European Council meetings, one in Barcelona and another one in Seville as well as one EU-Latin American and Caribbean Summit in Madrid – in addition to numerous ministerial and technical meetings in different Spanish cities. In contrast with the former Spanish EU presidency’s selection of objectives and means, the Zapatero administration seeks to promote as many international meetings as possible. The Spanish EU president will try to maximize the international exposure that comes along the organization of many large summits – organized not on his own initiative, but because they are already part of the EU agenda.
Thus, among the already-programmed acts, there are two summits: The EU-Latin America and Caribbean Summit on May 18 and the Union for the Mediterranean Summit, which expects the attendance of all EU and Latin American leaders. The Heads of State and Government of the 43 Countries of the Union for the Mediterranean will take place in Barcelona on June 7 at the end of the Spanish EU Presidency. By then, the Catalan city will be ready as the seat of this international organization initiated by French president, Nicolas Sarkozy about a year ago. 
Likewise, within this six-month period, there are four more summits scheduled, one between the European Union and Pakistan in Brussels on April 21; the bilateral EU-Mexico summit on May 16 in Santander; the EU-US summit in Madrid on May 24 – most eagerly awaited by Mr. Zapatero; and the EU-Egypt summit in Barcelona on June 6. [10]
This presidency will cost Spanish coffers at least 90 million euros, according to the estimates of the General State Budget approved by Congress. Most of the money will come from the Ministry of the Presidency, around 52.7 million euros, to be followed by the Interior Ministry, which has reserved 19.3 million to essentially guarantee public security during that period. The Foreign Affairs Ministry has 13.9 million euros for “the expenses of the Spanish EU Presidency” while other ministries have allocated money for that particular end according to the General State Budget. For example, the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, and Commerce will contribute 2.1 million euros and the Ministry of Environment will do the same with 1.44 million. [11]
However, aside from the disproportioned cost of the current presidency in comparison with the former, there are other remarkable differences. On the one hand, they have to do with leadership and, on the other hand, it is all about political results. We have already dealt with the leadership issue, let’s see now some data regarding the second issue.
The characteristic feature of the 2002 Spanish EU Presidency was its work preparing the ground for the enlargement of the European Union from 15 to 25 countries, successfully achieved right after that presidency. The enlargement as the base of European reunification was a wide-range, very hard-worked objective. During this six-month period, negotiations on 96 chapters were specifically opened: 52 of them were provisionally closed and 22 were opened for the first time. The negotiations for the accession process neared the final stage and the European Council in Brussels could designate the countries that would conclude the negotiations at the end of 2002. [12]
Another big task undertaken by the former Spanish EU presidency was the work done in the EU Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) that would define the European institutional system. The Seville European Council endorsed the general approach taken by the Convention and adopted an important position regarding Ireland’s neutrality, paving the way to the necessary ratification of the Treaty of Nice in order to go on with the project.
Regarding the institutional reform, the Spanish EU Presidency of José Maria Aznar acted in three ways;
1. It prepared the coordination of the Council’s tasks to boost the horizontal work of the General Affairs & External Relations Council.
2. It worked to simplify the Council’s procedures. From then on, the Councils would last one day and the configurations were reduced from sixteen to nine.
3. It worked to strength the Council’s transparency. There was also a debate about the six-month rotating presidencies that would be continued in the Copenhagen European Council.
In addition to these objectives, there were other remarkable achievements during the 2002 Spanish EU presidency;
• The steps taken in the struggle against terrorism, in particular the measures adopted by the 15 EU member states among which we find the formal constitution of Eurojust or the Framework Decision on the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) that has direct repercussion in our struggle against ETA.
• The work regarding the immigration and asylum policy of the European Union, with the 15 EU member states reaching the conclusion that Europe needs immigration but it must avoid the proliferation of mafia organizations dedicated to human trafficking.
• For this reason, they agreed on one “global and balanced package” to combat illegal immigration based on four specific pillars:
1. A series of measures to fight against illegal immigration, based on the plan approved on February 28, 2002.
2. The launch of a coordinated and integrated plan for the management of the external borders of the member states of the European Union.
3. The need to speed up current legislative work on the framing of a common policy regarding asylum and immigration by adopting specific actions: To determine by December 2002 which countries were to be in charge of asylum requests; by June 2003, the minimum standards for qualification and status as refugees and the provisions on family reunification and the status of long-term permanent residents. And finally, by the end of 2003, the common standards for asylum procedures.
4. The integration of immigration policy into the Union’s relations with third countries. This decision was motivated by the members’ shared belief that closer economic cooperation, trade expansion, development assistance, and conflict prevention are all means of reducing the underlying causes of migration flows. For that reason, it stressed the importance of strengthening the cooperation between the EU and countries of origin and transit to be subsequently assessed and reviewed since this cooperation should bring results. 
• The work for a prosperous economy and sustainable development: In addition to what was achieved at the Barcelona European Council, member states approved the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines in Seville, focusing on the “establishment of the objective of near balance in 2004.” It also defined economic reforms as the only way for the European Union to achieve its economic growth targets. This aspect shows the enormous difference between Mr. Aznar and Mr. Zapatero’s presidencies – the former, focused on decisions and adjustments while the latter has long-term objectives without a coherent working and evaluation plan for the coming rotating presidencies.
Regarding sustainable development, the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and the common position adopted by the 15 EU member states in the Monterrey Summit, these issues helped to strengthen the leadership of the European Union in the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. That summit developed three specific initiatives: poverty reduction, environmental protection, and aid to less fortunate countries. Other measures were also adopted regarding concrete issues such as freshwater, energy, and health.
Finally, we must refer to the 2002 Spanish EU presidency’s contributions in foreign policy matters;
• Within the framework of EU-US relations, there were negotiations for an agreement in judicial cooperation in criminal and extradition matters.
• A cooperation agreement with Russia to combat terrorism and to support democratic and economic reforms.
• An association agreement with Chile in Ibero-America and other proposals to increase economic integration in the region.
• In addition, within the Euro-Mediterranean framework, a meeting between Israelis and Arabs was achieved during the Valencia Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference, following in the footsteps of the Barcelona Forum.
• Regarding the Middle East, two declarations were approved during the European Councils of Barcelona and Seville in addition to the peace initiatives for the region through the Quartet (the European Union, the United States, Russia, and the United Nations).
• Lastly, the struggle against terrorism as well as foreign policy and common security issues of the 15 EU member states.
The results of the 2002 Spanish EU Presidency opened the door to the development of a European area of freedom, security, and justice before 2004 as the European Union’s next great strategic objective (after the single market and the monetary union.)
Currently, the big open challenges and central themes of the 2010 Presidency are the strengthening of Europe so that it can speak with a single voice on the global geopolitical stage; the reinforcement of the EU leadership in order to shape a global answer to the challenges of climate change and energy independence; and the consolidation of one safer Europe for all its citizens by building a shared space of judicial and police cooperation. We will have to wait until June to make a complete assessment of this presidency’s contributions in order to see if it has risen to the occasion, if it has met its objectives and the challenge of performing its tasks internally to accelerate the end of the crisis in Europe.


[1] “Presentación de los objetivos españoles de la Presidencia Europea” at the Carlos de Amberes Foundation for the Association of European Journalists. February 12, 2009.
[2] “Zapatero: “Si alguien llama a Europa, el teléfono es el de Van Rompuy,” published in 8, 2010.
[3] “A Stumbling Spain Must Guide Europe,Financial Times. January 5, 2010.
[4] “Old Spanish Practices,” The Economist (Charlemagne Blog.) January 7, 2010.
[5] “La Presidencia Española de la UE coincide con los objetivos de la propuesta de la CE para la ‘Estrategia 2020’ de crecimiento económico sostenible”., March 3, 2010.
[6] In 2006, only one year after the accession talks, Turkey refused to open ports to Cyprus. At the moment, there were tense negotiations, with some members demanding the freeze of all chapters while others sought only some minor punishment (such as Spain under the administration of Mr. Zapatero.) The EU froze talks on eight of the twelve chapters already in the process of negotiation.
[7] Jimena Gómez De La Flor: “Turquía y la Presidencia española”. La Comunidad de, March 11, 2010.
[8] “Dura condena a Cuba por muerte de Orlando Zapata”., March 11, 2010.
[9] “ Zapatero gastará el doble que Aznar en la Presidencia española de la UE”., September 20, 2009.
[10] “España, en la Presidencia de la UE”. Especiales (2009.)
[11] “La Presidencia española de la UE costará 90 millones de euros”., October 11, 2009.
[12] Official website of the 2002 Spanish EU Presidency,