Spanish Presidency of the EU

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EU and Spanish flags flying side by side (Image Credit: The European Commission)

July 1st, 2023, marks the fifth time Spain has assumed the presidency of the Council of the European Union since joining the EU in 1986. The presidency is responsible for the functioning of the Council, which serves as the co-legislator alongside the European Parliament. It rotates among EU member states every six months, with the position held by a national government. It should be noted that the presidency is often mistakenly referred to as the “president of the European Union.” The main tasks of the presidency include chairing council meetings, setting agendas, establishing work programs, and facilitating dialogue within the Council and with other EU institutions.

Spain has previously held the presidency in 1989, 1995, 2002, and 2010. However, this year’s presidency presents additional challenges due to the upcoming Spanish elections scheduled for the end of July 2023. The socialists faced a defeat in a regional ballot at the end of May 2023, further complicating the situation. Despite these challenges, Spain’s repeated occupation of this significant role underscores its importance within the EU. 

The relationship between Spain and Europe has been long and complex. While Spain was a European and even a global superpower in the 16th and 17th centuries, the downfall of the Spanish empire in the 1800s marked a change in Europe’s perception of Spain. Throughout the 20th century, Spain aspired to be considered as European as other countries, despite facing structural and social struggles, mainly due to its economy heavily relying on agriculture. Spain’s association with the EU began in the 1960s when economic cooperation between Spain and Europe first began. It eventually led to Spain’s accession to the EU on January 1, 1986, alongside Portugal. Spanish diplomacy has always focused on two additional axes: Latin American and North African countries, especially Morocco. This ambition to open the EU to these territories and assert itself in the European sphere, traditionally dominated by France and Germany, has become a priority for Spain. 

Many Spanish citizens believe that Europe played a crucial role in their economic development. Spain initially benefited from regional subsidies in 1992, receiving 25% of European funds allocated to fragile regions. From 1994 to 2004, Madrid received 50% of European cohesion grants, facilitating the development of its transportation systems. Similar grants were provided for post-COVID-19 redevelopment efforts. 

However, it is essential to acknowledge that Spain is currently experiencing the rise of far-right movements and right-wing populism, posing an alternative view to the pro-European sentiment. The movements and proponents for it believe that the EU has infringed on the national sovereignty of the people, and rather than having those politicians run the country, the people should be given more power.

Written by Imane Moumen

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