Implementation of the Lisbon Treaty under the Spanish Presidency

Ignacio Molina
Spain chaired the EU Council of ministers during the first semester of 2010,[1] thus completing the first rotating presidency of the EU to be held under the Lisbon Treaty. From an institutional point of view – and much more from a substantive point of view, as is analysed in other sections of this EU-27 Watch report considering the rough economic circumstances of Europe and Spain – the task was not easy at all.
First of all, the Spanish Presidency was responsible for the implementation of very important innovations included in the new Treaty, such as the launching of the European External Action Service (EEAS), the approval of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) or the way itself in which the rotating presidency exercises its functions: a completely new scheme of functions with less political leeway and media visibility, but with a greater need to ensure coordination of the entire inter-institutional system.
Secondly, even if the two new permanent EU top jobs – the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – had already been appointed in November 2009 under the Swedish Presidency, the definition of the role and the goals of both Herman Van Rompuy and, particularly, Catherine Ashton remained unclear until the first months of 2010.
Finally, uncertainties in the EU’s institutional workings worsened further because of the two-month delay in getting the new European Commission under José Manuel Durão Barroso up and running. This caused a subsequent delay in all legislative initiatives for implementing Lisbon.
Nevertheless, despite these three obstacles, the terms of the Lisbon Treaty began to be applied smoothly in the first half of the year, and the institutional goals of the Spanish Presidency’s ambitious programme were achieved almost completely.
Despite some minor incidents involving a lack of coordination and small clashes in the distribution of functions among the new officials – conveniently blown out of proportion by some media that confused the complexities of the new system with alleged rivalries between Van Rompuy and the Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, or between Ashton and the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos – this semester established a good precedent for co-habitation between the permanent and rotating presidencies. The link between the General Affairs Council and the European Council worked, and the Spanish Prime Minister accepted Van Rompuy’s role of leadership and mediation among heads of state or government, appearing with him – and the President of the Commission – at news conferences after the European Council or summits with other countries when they were held in Spain. The holding of direct, personal meetings before major European or international events cleared the way for the two men to work well together.[2] In any case, this harmony should consolidate further in future presidencies.
The agreement establishing the EEAS was probably the major institutional achievement of the Spanish Presidency. On 26 April 2010, the Council approved a political agreement on the broad outlines of the service, based on a draft presented in March 2010 by the High Representative. In May and June 2010, on behalf of the Council, Ashton and Moratinos negotiated the issues of political control, budget and staffing with the main groups in the European Parliament. Finally, an accord was reached in Madrid on 21 June 2010 that might be ratified by a plenary session of the Parliament and thus possibly allow for the EEAS to be launched on 1 December of this year, coinciding with the first anniversary of the Treaty of Lisbon’s coming into force. The plan creating the service calls for deploying more than 6,000 people in 138 diplomatic missions around the world over the next five years.[3]
While the EEAS was being negotiated – and, thus, not yet up and running – the Spanish Presidency had to undertake a transitional semester in terms of foreign policy. The two new authorities established by the Treaty had not yet been able to define their own goals. For this reason, the Spanish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister played a greater role than their colleagues of future rotating presidencies will. On the other hand, and little by little, the Commission’s delegations abroad were being transformed into official delegations of the EU, but, consequently, the network of Spanish embassies continued to represent the EU in a special way in several places around the world.
Another interesting achievement of the semester was the regulation of the ECI called for in the Treaty. Here, the Presidency deserves credit for having pressed the new European Commission, which was not formed until February, to make up for lost time. Thanks to this pressure, on 31 March 2010 the Commission presented the draft on regulating the European Citizens’ Initiative, a month ahead of schedule. Now it has to work its way through the European Parliament and the Council in the usual procedure. This timetable means that definitive approval will come some time after the Spanish Presidency is over. Still, no major changes in the draft are expected. Thus, European citizens will be able to propose legislative reforms directly to the Commission as long as they come up with a million signatures in the space of one year from a third of the member states, representing at least 0.2 percent of the population of each of those states.[4]

[1] With the exception of the External Affairs Council, which is no longer chaired by the rotating Presidency, but by the High Representative.

[2] The Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero and President Van Rompuy met twice, in Madrid and Brussels, before the start of the semester to clarify their respective functions. They also co-signed an op-ed article, published in Europe’s leading newspapers in early January, to present to the Union’s public opinion the new institutional order established by the Treaty; the article was titled ‘2010, a Good Year for the Union’. It is available at: (last access: 29 July 2010).

[3] See the agreement on the European diplomatic service by the Council at: (last access: 29 July 2010).

[4] See the Commission proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the citizens’ initiative at: (last access: 29 July 2010).