The domestic assessment of the Spanish Presidency

Ignacio Molina
The very high domestic expectations linked to the Spanish 2010 EU Presidency and the highly challenging economic context that emerged after the Greek debt crisis – which hit Spain very harshly – make for an overall evaluation of the semester that is far below what would be expected from simply adding up what was achieved in the different areas of the Presidency’s programme.
The scenario of the EU after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty required ambition, and Spain – a mid-size or even large country within the expanded EU, with solid pro-European convictions and organisational and leadership skills that were proved by its earlier turns as EU President – seemed to be one of the states willing to take on the challenge. In fact, leading government officials and the ruling Socialist Party, rather than opt for a moderate approach as to what could be expected from this six-month period, chose to raise expectations by stressing the historic importance that the challenge held for Spain and for Europe. However, it soon became clear that the challenge – perhaps not quite historic but in any case quite important – was a very difficult one to meet.
In undertaking its Presidency, the Spanish government tried to make a legitimate, albeit complicated, connection with its major goals in domestic and foreign policy. But it did not pay enough attention to the institutional limits that rotating presidencies have always had and the fact that the Lisbon Treaty imposes even more limits, as it lowers the political profile of these six-month stints in power.
From an institutional standpoint, and despite uncertainty surrounding the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and the delay in forming the European Commission, Spain correctly carried out its legislative role in the Council. It encouraged consensus, organised things efficiently and, above all, addressed the development of the treaty and future political debates properly: an ambitious diplomatic service, bringing the EU closer to its citizens, solidarity with Greece, strengthening economic governance, supporting innovation, progress in enlargement, attention to Latin America, etc.
However, the adverse combination of political and economic factors and broad and excessively high ambitions ended up overshadowing the final result of the Spanish Presidency. Today, the general political perception of the recently concluded Presidency – pending public opinion polls and a more thorough analysis from experts – is more on the negative side. The Spanish government made a naturally self-congratulatory assessment of the Presidency, calling it “tireless, efficient, committed, showing solidarity, and pro-European”. The overall judgment will probably be more critical, but it would not be fair for the assessment to be totally negative either.