Spain’s ambitious EU plans risk friction

Spain’s ambitious EU plans risk friction

18th January 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spain’s initial proposal to impose sanctions on EU members that miss economic targets shows Zapatero is not ready to relinquish power to the EU president, says one London-based analyst.

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 1 January, 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 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 who fail to respect binding targets, as part of a new 10-year growth strategy that would replace the failed Lisbon Agenda, launched in 2000.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (C), EU's president Herman van Rompuy (L) and EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso gesture during the press conference in Moncloa palace in Madrid on 8 January 2010

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."

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," said Brady.

"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."

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

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

"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."

Madrid is also walking a tightrope on the diplomatic front.

On Monday, Moratinos was taking positions on various issues at a news conference, while the more discreet Ashton won tepid support at a confirmation hearing in the European Parliament.

Blue lighting lights up the Real Palace in Madrid to mark the Spanish European Union presidency on 8 January 2010

However, France's Secretary of State for European Affairs Pierre Lellouche however said Spain's programme is not overly ambitious.

"It picks up the main priorities that everyone is expecting: a way out of the crisis, immigration, external security and foreign policy and common defence policy," he said.

"But it's clear that the institutions are being broken in ... and that each one will have to find its place," and "if we continue to add layers of institutions we will never make it."

AFP / Expatica

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