Spanish PM defends 'useful' EU presidency
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Wednesday defended Spain's turn at the helm of the EU presidency from criticism it was low-profile and overshadowed by the European debt crisis that hit the country hard.
During a debate in parliament before Belgium takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on July 1, he said he was "satisfied" with the Spain's performance.
"We had to deal with difficult circumstances for the European Union and also for our country. The government felt useful exercising the presidency of the EU," he added.
Zapatero pointed to the approval at an EU summit last week of Madrid's proposal to make bank stress tests public -- which he said would be "fundamental" to restore calm in the markets -- as an example of the success of the Spanish presidency.
But the leader of the conservative opposition Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy, blasted Spain's performance as "mediocre", adding that the austerity measures which the EU pressured Spain to adopt during the presidency have turned the country into a "protectorate" of the bloc.
"The leading role which we dreamt of for Spain came to pass, but not for the reasons which we desired," he said.
Spain's presidency of the EU was marked by the cancellation of two key summits, one with the United States and the other with the Mediterranean Union.
Zapatero said he regretted the cancellation of the EU-US summit that had been scheduled for May which he said was due to US President Barack Obama's tight agenda.
The summit with the Mediterranean Union, which had been scheduled to take place during the first week of June, was postponed to give time for progress in indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Spanish presidency of the EU was the first since the full application of the Lisbon Treaty which created the position of a permanent president and foreign policy chief for the bloc.
© 2010 AFP