Fri, Jan 15, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Spain shows intent to play key role as president of the EU


Spain has quickly shown it intends to play a driving role in the EU during its six-month presidency — at the risk of being snubbed, as happened this week over a bold economic proposal.

Before it assumed the presidency on Jan. 1, Madrid had stressed its willingness to bow to the authority of the new permanent president of the EU, Herman Van Rompuy, and his foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, amid confusion over the leadership roles under the new Lisbon reform treaty.

But declarations since then by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, have suggested the reverse.

Zapatero, battered domestically in opinion polls by the conservative opposition and facing record unemployment, is hoping he can recover some lost ground by capturing the European spotlight.

“The presidency is an important domestic issue for the [Spanish] government,” said Hugo Brady, an analyst for the London-based Centre for European Reform.

But it’s a risky strategy.

The prime minister launched last week an audacious economic proposal to impose “corrective measures” on member states that fail to respect binding targets, as part of a new 10-year growth strategy that would replace the failed Lisbon Agenda, launched in 2000.

But German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle publicly dismissed the idea.

“I do not think the idea of imposing sanctions on member states for not fulfilling fixed targets is sensible,” he said.

“Up to now, the Lisbon strategy has been based on a partnership approach without sanctions and we ought to continue that,” he said.

Spain then sought to backtrack, with Moratinos insisting that “sanctions” were never part of the plan.

“I respect Spain for their audacity, they’re saying the current system of the Lisbon strategy is not working and they’re right,” Brady said.

“But the reality of politics is that certain large [EU] member states will never accept a binding system or sanctions regarding economic policy. It’s not doable politically,” he said.

Zapatero may have pulled the rug out from under the feet of Van Rompuy, who had called a summit of EU leaders for Feb. 11 in Brussels to discuss ways to revive growth.

“There is a political fight for primacy” between Van Rompuy and the rotating presidency, Brady said.

“On the one hand you have one guy, without a big staff, without executive power [Van Rompuy] and on the other side you have a prime minister of a country who will not give power away,” he said.

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