Wednesday 30 December 2009

How the Spanish EU Council Presidency can be a success

In two days, the Spanish EU Council Presidency will take over from the Swedish Council Presidency, and the Spanish will be the first rotating presidency under the Lisbon Treaty system.

The new institutional setting will need some adaptation, people and institutions will need time to find their roles and their routines, and we shouldn't be too critical if some things don't work out perfectly at the beginning.

But in my point of view, the Spanish presidency can only be a success if they try to stay in the background, if they focus less on policy and put all their forces behind the new leadership trio - van Rompuy, Ashton, and (to some extend) Barroso - in order to make them look good.

If van Rompuy and Ashton are able to stand out positively throughout 2010, the acceptance of the Lisbon Treaty could be significantly raised, which is important both for the core EU institutions as well as for the member states, including future presidencies.

This doesn't mean that the Spanish need to reduce the power or influence of the member states, but just that this coming presidency should refrain from the typical instincts of large member state presidencies - try to heavily influence the EU agenda and to receive international attention. This will be in favour of the Council and the member states, letting them focus on the legislative work while giving van Rompuy and Ashton the freedom to get into their roles, both within the EU and on the international stage.

As a citizen, there is a second direction into which I would like to see the Spanish work: Openness and transparency.

I have major doubts that the Spanish are the right country to foster these two, but if they managed to bring in at least some more transparency and openness, this would be a major success for their presidency.

The Council is the second chamber of the political system of the EU, and most of its structures are law-making or law-interpreting in character. These laws are not made for that EU institutions or member state officials but for us, the citizens. We should thus be able to observe every important decision taken, including a more detailed insight into bargaining dynamics and the voting and drafting behaviour of our own and other EU countries.

Only if the Spanish are able to bring about changes into this direction, their presidency can be a real success.

And so at the end of June 2010 we shall ask: Were the Spanish able to communicate with us, the citizens? Did they manage to make decision-making in the Council more visible, more traceable, more understandable? Did they follow the Swedish in communicating on Twitter and in blogs or did they even find other innovative means get us, the interested public, involved in their work? And: Were they able, through their intelligent work, to support the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty changes?

In the last 1 1/2 years we had the "Ego-Presidency" of the French, the "Chaos-Presidency" of the Czechs, the "Efficency-Presidency" of the Swedes - what kind of over-simplifying label will we use for the Spanish after the coming semester?


Ralf Grahn said...


Signed in Lisbon in 2007, hopefully delivered by Madrid in 2010, the Lisbon Treaty forms an Iberian cycle.

I hope that the Spanish government has the will and the capacity to make its six months into a European presidency, promoting the Lisbon leadership structures and transparency, just as you correctly point out.

When we finally get the new Commission in place, the European Union can begin to function normally, but it will take time before it is up to speed.

Heavy dossiers are waiting for their politically responsible handlers, and we are going to be frustrated by the half-measures of the Lisbon Treaty many times in the years to come.