Spain’s EU presidency, which it takes over from Sweden on 1 July, comes in times of crisis. Moreover, it will be the last full presidency before the European elections in the spring of 2024. A time that is usually used to close many issues before the polls. As Spain faces snap elections on 23 July, and surveys are suggesting a possible right-wing government, there is the question of how that could impact policy-making in Brussels in the second half of 2023.
Reindustrialization, green transition, strengthening social justice and EU unity are the four priorities on the agenda of Spain’s presidency. “We will promote the reindustrialization and digitalization of Europe. We will make decisive progress in the ecological transition. We will make the economy more prosperous, but also fairer, and we will strengthen European unity with new tools and new agreements,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez last week in Madrid, presenting the program of the presidency.
In addition to the four priorities, Sánchez said he hoped to close the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum. The Council and the European Parliament will now have to reach a consensus, which Spain had advocated in order to achieve the relocation of migrants. “We have always said that the EU cannot be divided, we are all victims of these crises. Spain has always said that we must strengthen the external dimension of the phenomenon, strengthen cooperation with the countries of transit and origin,” concluded Sánchez.
Another major objective proposed by Sánchez will be the creation of minimum corporate taxation throughout the EU in order to put an end “once and for all to tax evasion by large fortunes and large corporations.” According to Spain’s prime minister, tax evasion costs the European Union 1.5 percentage points of its annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the same amount, he said, that is invested in subsidised housing and the environment.
Further key topics for Spain’s EU Presidency will be the reform of the energy market, the review of the fiscal rules in the Stability and Growth Pact and continued support for Ukraine.
Snap elections in Spain
Spain’s Prime Minister himself has played down the national elections happening during his country’s presidency of the Council of the European Union. “It is not the first time that elections are held during the rotating presidency, there have also been changes of governments during the presidency,” said Sánchez.
In view of the opinion polls that suggest a future right-wing government in Spain, Sánchez has recalled that the role of his government “is not to impose European dossiers or debates, but to guide the existing ones before the end of the six-month period.”
Prime Minister Sánchez had called the snap elections on 23 July after his Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) suffered a heavy defeat in local elections in May. This is the second government of Sánchez, who has been Prime Minister since 2018.
Geopolitical opportunities: EU and Latin America
Pedro Sánchez wants to strengthen ties with Latin America. The Spanish government considers that, in recent times, the EU has turned its back on Latin America, despite the fact that both regions share values and principles. As pointed out at the Ibero-American Summit this year, Latin America also sees Spain’s presidency of the EU as an opportunity for closer ties.
Spain will also propose a strategy to guarantee the EU’s economic security and global leadership until 2030. It aims to promote dossiers to foster the development of strategic industries and technologies in Europe and diversify trade relations, with a special focus on Latin America. The EU-CELAC Summit is planned to be held in Brussels in July and intends to conclude the pending trade agreements with Mercosur, Chile and Mexico.
In addition, the Spanish presidency announced that it will work to attract new companies to Europe amidst geopolitical, technological and environmental changes, which it sees as an opportunity to reduce the EU’s excessive dependence on third countries in areas such as energy, health, digital technology and food.
Bulgaria: Schengen stays the top priority
However, there are more issues to be solved during the 6-month presidency. The Schengen accession continues to be one of Bulgaria’s top priorities. Sofia hopes the Spanish Presidency will schedule a new vote no later than October. Last December, such a vote failed during the Czech Presidency, as Austria and the Netherlands blocked Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen area.
Since then, Sofia has received EU support to strengthen its external borders and adopted long-awaited law reforms concerning the judiciary and rule of law. Therefore, Sofia hopes that the upcoming European Commission Rule of Law report, set to be published in July, could give additional momentum to the Schengen enlargement.
Bulgaria’s new Deputy Prime Minister, soon-to-be head of government and former European Commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, told reporters earlier this week that she was optimistic the report would be positive and she expected the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for Bulgaria, introduced in 2007, to finally be lifted.
EU Enlargement in the Western Balkans
On a visit to Slovenia in mid-February, Sánchez and the Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob underlined their support for Ukraine as well as the importance of tackling energy challenges and a united European response to migration. They also discussed the EU’s enlargement policy, with a focus on the Western Balkans. The prime ministers stressed the importance of Europe’s strategic autonomy, which will be one of the priorities of the Spanish EU Presidency.
“We expect the issue of EU enlargement to be on the agenda of the Spanish presidency. We support the decision to grant candidate status for EU membership to Ukraine and Moldova, but we also expect the Western Balkans region to retain a central place in EU enlargement policy,” said Miloš Todorović from Serbia’s Foreign Ministry, adding that Serbia welcomes the Spanish presidency and hopes for further progress in the accession negotiations.
The Spanish presidency will kick off the new trio, also comprising Belgium and Hungary, which will preside in the first and second half of 2024, respectively. The presidential trio defines long-term goals and prepares a joint program of the main topics and issues that the Council will deal with in a period of 18 months. Based on that program, all three countries are preparing their detailed six-month programs.
This is the fifth presidency of Spain since the country became a member in 1986. It presided for the first time in 1989, and again in 1995, 2002 and 2010.
In the second half of this year, Spain will organize 21 informal meetings on its soil, each of them in a different city. A meeting of EU heads of state or government is scheduled for October in Granada.
It remains to be seen how the snap elections on 23 July turn out, and whether Prime Minister Sánchez will be able to lead Europe through these crucial six months to close the dossiers ahead of the European elections.
Editor’s note: This article has been edited. An earlier version stated that corporate tax should be minimised instead of a minimum corporate taxation throughout the EU.
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