Kosovo’s independence a highly controversial issue

Enlargement to the East entails a number of challenges for Spain. It does not stand to gain from the economic opportunities of enlargement but will suffer from the consequences (reduced structural funds, increased migratory flows, industrial relocation and disinvestment and trade competition in key markets). Nevertheless, for historical and moral reasons Spain has supported the enlargement process from the very beginning and continues to back future developments. The Spanish government backs not only the entry of Turkey and Croatia but also of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
According to Spain’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos,[1] Turkey’s membership of the EU is a ‘strategic issue’. Successive Spanish governments (whether Conservative or Socialist) have backed Turkey’s entry to the EU for a number of different reasons which have to do with the EU’s general political, economic and security interests, while not considering questions of cultural or religious identity to be central to the issue.
Concerning Croatia, the government has supported the opening of negotiations and considers that talks are progressing very satisfactorily. It believes Croatia’s future membership to be a decisive factor for the Balkan region.

After the Irish referendum

The ‘No’ vote in the Irish referendum held last June was generally received with great disappointment among Spanish political elites, mass media and public. The main newspapers’ headlines even highlighted with some overstatement that the results of the voting in Ireland meant the “worst crisis ever in the EU”[1] and that the integration process was, as a consequence of that, “close to an abyss”[2]. Of course, all analysts and most citizens, bearing in mind the unanimity requirement for European treaties ratification among member countries, realised that the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty faced a serious setback and that a new period of political uncertainty – coinciding with the increasing signals of economic crisis – had commenced in Europe.
The somewhat deceitful idea that only 862,415 Irish voters had blocked the political will of 500 million people all around Europe was particularly stressed and, as a natural result of this viewpoint, some commentators supported the idea of rethinking unanimity among the member states, blaming it was an unsuitable procedure for reforming treaties.[3] On the other hand, the referendum was also interpreted as a manifestation of the divorce between public opinion and politicians since the five most important Irish parties had recommended supporting the Treaty but yet 53 percent of people voted against.

Major parties support the Lisbon Treaty

The next Spanish national elections will be held on 9 March 2008, following the dissolution of the current Parliament on 14 January 2008. Thus, the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty can start only after the formation of the new government resulting from these elections. Obviously, no official timetable for ratification has been announced yet. Alberto Navarro, the current Spanish Secretary for the European Union, declared on 17 January that ratification would not take place until June or July at the earliest. It is, however, unlikely for the entire ratification process to be completed by the new Parliament before the summer and it is even possible for there to be a delay until September or October 2008.

Disillusionment after the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change

Lara Lázaro and Alicia Sorroza
The Spanish government praised the technical advancements of the working groups at Copenhagen. It was also satisfied about having brought the largest polluters on board (albeit in the in extremis meeting). It nevertheless realised that international environmental agreements are inevitably slow and bound by the law of the least ambitious programme. In sum, there was an undisguised feeling of failure among government officials. This was reflected in the declarations made by the Spanish Office of Climate Change (OECC) at various seminars and workshops in the aftermath of the COP15. Too much to achieve in a short period of time, with misunderstandings and lack of trust among parties, could summarise the government’s analysis of Copenhagen. The Spanish Presidency of the EU was expected to further the joint efforts of the European Union in the future achievement of a legally binding agreement.[1]

Greek debt crisis effects Spain indirectly

Ignacio Molina
After the implementation of the institutional innovations included in the Treaty, the second big priority of the Spanish EU Presidency was coordinating economic policies so as to encourage recovery.[1] However, the unprecedented Greek debt crisis dominated the semester and it ended up affecting Spain indirectly. It is true that crises usually provide an opportunity for rotating presidencies to enhance their leadership roles, but that was not the case this time. Spain’s troubled economic situation prevented this from happening, or at least blocked it. Spain’s fiscal situation was never nearly as serious as Greece’s. Still, that did not stop people from comparing the two countries, thus raising doubts about Spain’s neutrality and its authority for leading the debate on how to address the Greek problem or on how to reform European economic governance.[2]

Spain backs future EU enlargements

Ignacio Molina
Having only joined the European Communities in 1986, thirty years after the signature of the Rome Treaty and ten years after the end of Franco’s dictatorship, Spain’s official position has always backed the idea that enlargement is a central element of the EU integration process and that further enlargement towards relatively new democracies in the Western Balkans and Turkey is a political priority that will contribute to peace and stability in Europe. Notwithstanding this, it must also be stressed that, in general, enlargement is a topic without relevance in the mass media and in domestic political debate.[1] Even so, the programme of the Spanish EU Presidency was also ambitious on this dimension.[2]

Implementation of the Lisbon Treaty under the Spanish Presidency

Ignacio Molina
Spain chaired the EU Council of ministers during the first semester of 2010,[1] thus completing the first rotating presidency of the EU to be held under the Lisbon Treaty. From an institutional point of view – and much more from a substantive point of view, as is analysed in other sections of this EU-27 Watch report considering the rough economic circumstances of Europe and Spain – the task was not easy at all.
First of all, the Spanish Presidency was responsible for the implementation of very important innovations included in the new Treaty, such as the launching of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the approval of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) or the way itself in which the rotating presidency exercises its functions: a completely new scheme of functions with less political leeway and media visibility, but with a greater need to ensure coordination of the entire inter-institutional system.
Secondly, even if the two new permanent EU top jobs – the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – had already been appointed in November 2009 under the Swedish Presidency, the definition of the role and the goals of both Herman Van Rompuy and, particularly, Catherine Ashton remained unclear until the first months of 2010.

The domestic assessment of the Spanish Presidency

Ignacio Molina
The very high domestic expectations linked to the Spanish 2010 EU Presidency and the highly challenging economic context that emerged after the Greek debt crisis – which hit Spain very harshly – make for an overall evaluation of the semester that is far below what would be expected from simply adding up what was achieved in the different areas of the Presidency’s programme.
The scenario of the EU after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty required ambition, and Spain – a mid-size or even large country within the expanded EU, with solid pro-European convictions and organisational and leadership skills that were proved by its earlier turns as EU President – seemed to be one of the states willing to take on the challenge. In fact, leading government officials and the ruling Socialist Party, rather than opt for a moderate approach as to what could be expected from this six-month period, chose to raise expectations by stressing the historic importance that the challenge held for Spain and for Europe. However, it soon became clear that the challenge – perhaps not quite historic but in any case quite important – was a very difficult one to meet.