Nobody can go it alone

The consciousness that passes from the Spanish to the Belgian Presidency

The handing over from the six months’ rotating Presidency of the European Council of Ministers from Spain to Belgium, in the middle of the year, offers the occasion to the EU to reflect on the main issues on its agenda, on the results achieved in the turbulent last few months and on the problems that need to be resolved in the months ahead. The Parliament thus hosted, during the plenary session in Strasbourg (5-8 July), the premiers most directly involved in the rotating Presidency, the Spaniard José Luis Zapatero and the Belgian Yves Leterme.Political will. Attention was especially focused on the Spanish Presidency, coinciding with the first semester of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. It is not by chance that José Luis Zapatero, in his address to MEPs, insisted on the concept of “coordination” between the institutions of the Union and the governments of member states. “Europe today – he said -, prompted by unprecedented global challenges, must gamble on the principles and method of Community Europe”. As far as economic policy is concerned, he explained, “we have achieved considerable results, urged by the difficulties and united in the search for common governance”. The entry into force of the Treaty can create, in his view, “a more effective Union, but what’s needed is the political will to act together”. Zapatero also touched on the main issues of foreign policy: “Over these last few months [of the Spanish Presidency] we have supported the creation of the external action service”, i.e. the fledgling EU diplomatic service; “through the work of the High Representative Catherine Ashton the relations with many countries have been revitalized and advantageous commercial deals have been signed”. The Spanish politician admits, however, that “it has not been possible to realize the planned summit with US President Obama” (a “failure” emphasized by various MEPs), “but we have reached significant transatlantic accords to counter terrorism, as well as on the security of bank data” (Swift) “and air traffic” (Open Skies). The planned Euro Mediterranean summit was also postponed; it will probably be held in November. Among MEPs there are those who appreciate what Spain has achieved and others who largely dismiss it, saying that “six important months have been lost”; Zapatero’s hand was strengthened however by the “explicit appreciation” and “sincere thanks” expressed by the President of the European Parliament, the Polish Jerzy Buzek.Community method. Many voices in Europe speak of “community method”: it seems almost as if, in the most contrasted phase in the life of the EU, there is a return to the origins, to the “fathers” of integration, such as Robert Schuman. What does the Spanish Premier think of that? “In general there is consensus around the community method, urged, I believe, especially by the emergency due to the economic crisis”: Zapatero, quizzed by SIR Europe, stressed the process of integration, the paths that the EU is pursuing “to implement the Lisbon Treaty and respond to citizens’ hopes”. The community method entails a greater reinforcement of the role of the Commission and Parliament than that countenanced by the intergovernmental method, where the part of protagonist is played by the governments of member states. “This community method is gaining ground – continued the Spanish premier -. We may think in particular of the policy initiative role being played by the Commission”. Zapatero speaks of a “dialectic internal to the EU” on the question (i.e. on the different views of the Union’s role and tasks), but insists on the need for “shared responsibility, if we wish the Union to work”, and if we wish it also to “operate in fields where more Europe is needed, such as welfare, competition, education…”. In Zapatero’s view “a new consciousness is emerging, also between the bigger states, on the fact that no one can go it it alone. The main countries must not be tempted” to proceed along their own road, “thinking they are self-sufficient. At this time we must reinforce the Union”. Discordant voices. On the same wavelength is Commission President José Manuel Barroso: “More Europe, more integration, is needed”. Then, commenting on some of the issues raised by Zapatero, he declared: “We are not yet at a turning point as regards financial vigilance, but we are on the right road; over these last months we have made considerable progress and now we must, with the commitment of everyone, reach real results by the end of the year”. Analyzing the first half of 2010, and looking to the second, during which Belgium will assume the rotating Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, the Portuguese politician speaks of “key decisions adopted despite a very difficult context”; he underlines “the value of the Europe 2020 strategy, which has also been achieved thanks to the support of the Spanish government, by fixing clear objectives and the social dimension of development”. But Joseph Daul, French MEP and leaders of the European People’s Party, does not seem to agree with EU progress and emphasises “the ground that has been lost in transatlantic relations”. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, German liberal-democratic MEP, also raises doubts about the external policy pursued by the Spanish Presidency and urges the EU “to greater caution towards Turkey, to avoid unpleasant surprises”.

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