The domestic assessment of the Spanish Presidency

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.

In under­tak­ing its Pres­i­den­cy, the Span­ish gov­ern­ment tried to make a legit­i­mate, albeit com­pli­cat­ed, con­nec­tion with its major goals in domes­tic and for­eign pol­i­cy. But it did not pay enough atten­tion to the insti­tu­tion­al lim­its that rotat­ing pres­i­den­cies have always had and the fact that the Lis­bon Treaty impos­es even more lim­its, as it low­ers the polit­i­cal pro­file of these six-month stints in power.

From an insti­tu­tion­al stand­point, and despite uncer­tain­ty sur­round­ing the entry into force of the Lis­bon Treaty and the delay in form­ing the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, Spain cor­rect­ly car­ried out its leg­isla­tive role in the Coun­cil. It encour­aged con­sen­sus, organ­ised things effi­cient­ly and, above all, addressed the devel­op­ment of the treaty and future polit­i­cal debates prop­er­ly: an ambi­tious diplo­mat­ic ser­vice, bring­ing the EU clos­er to its cit­i­zens, sol­i­dar­i­ty with Greece, strength­en­ing eco­nom­ic gov­er­nance, sup­port­ing inno­va­tion, progress in enlarge­ment, atten­tion to Latin Amer­i­ca, etc.

How­ev­er, the adverse com­bi­na­tion of polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic fac­tors and broad and exces­sive­ly high ambi­tions end­ed up over­shad­ow­ing the final result of the Span­ish Pres­i­den­cy. Today, the gen­er­al polit­i­cal per­cep­tion of the recent­ly con­clud­ed Pres­i­den­cy – pend­ing pub­lic opin­ion polls and a more thor­ough analy­sis from experts – is more on the neg­a­tive side. The Span­ish gov­ern­ment made a nat­u­ral­ly self-con­grat­u­la­to­ry assess­ment of the Pres­i­den­cy, call­ing it “tire­less, effi­cient, com­mit­ted, show­ing sol­i­dar­i­ty, and pro-Euro­pean”. The over­all judg­ment will prob­a­bly be more crit­i­cal, but it would not be fair for the assess­ment to be total­ly neg­a­tive either.

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.