Spain backs future EU enlargements

Ignacio Molina
Having only joined the European Communities in 1986, thirty years after the signature of the Rome Treaty and ten years after the end of Franco’s dictatorship, Spain’s official position has always backed the idea that enlargement is a central element of the EU integration process and that further enlargement towards relatively new democracies in the Western Balkans and Turkey is a political priority that will contribute to peace and stability in Europe. Notwithstanding this, it must also be stressed that, in general, enlargement is a topic without relevance in the mass media and in domestic political debate.[1] Even so, the programme of the Spanish EU Presidency was also ambitious on this dimension.[2]
Successive Spanish governments – whether conservative or socialist – have backed Turkey’s entry to the EU for a number of different reasons which have to do with the EU’s general political, economic and security interests, while not considering questions of cultural or religious identity to be central to the issue. Prime Minister Rodriguez Zapatero told his Turkish counterpart, Recept Tayyip Erdogan, during a summit held in Madrid last February that he wanted to open as many EU accession chapters as possible and boost Ankara’s bid to join the EU. However, despite Spanish diplomatic efforts, the expectations of opening up at least four negotiation chapters with Turkey came nowhere near being fulfilled – mainly because of Turkey’s delays in carrying out reforms. It was finally accepted that  only one technical chapter could be opened during the semester, although Turkey is expected to open one or two additional chapters during the remaining presidencies of the Trio team: Belgium and Hungary.
Concerning Croatia, in contrast with the limited progress made in its membership negotiations in 2009, two negotiation chapters were successfully concluded in 2010. The Spanish government supports the near conclusion of all negotiations considering that Croatia’s future membership will be a decisive factor of stability for the Balkan region. Spain has a political commitment towards the entire Western Balkans – in particular towards Serbia because of a peculiar combination of factors – and backs the idea that their future should only be within the EU. During its Presidency, Spain organised a successful and pragmatic meeting in Sarajevo in which it was able to bring together representatives of Serbia and Kosovo, despite being one of the five EU member states that obstinately rejects recognising the new independent state.
Finally, in the accession negotiations with Iceland – expected to start in autumn 2010 – Spain is willing to participate actively in the preparations of common positions related to the first negotiation chapters. One of the most important topics for both Iceland and the EU  will be the negotiations on the fishing chapter, a very sensitive issue for Spanish economic interests. The Secretary of State for the European Union, Diego López Garrido, expressed that “Spain is in favour of enlargement” although “the positive answer to the request of Iceland can not be detrimental to the requests of other countries to do the same, especially those countries that are in the area of the Western Balkans”.[3] Lopez Garrido admitted “that the negotiation process (with Iceland) will go relatively quickly”. It must be remembered that Iceland “meets most of the acquis communautaire and is part of the EEA and the Schengen zone”. However, the results of Iceland’s referendum held last March 2010, in which 93.5 percent of voters voted “No” to the plans to reimburse the Netherlands and the UK for monies lost following the collapse of online bank Icesave, could undermine the country’s application to join the European Union.
Another missed opportunity to reinvigorate EU-Mediterranean relations
The boost of the European Neighbourhood Policy, both to the east and in the Mediterranean area, was also considered a priority of the Spanish Presidency in the first semester of 2010. However, Spain has no strategic interests in the Eastern European vicinity, as its nearest geopolitical area of interest is the Mediterranean – the second national foreign policy priority after Latin America.
Spanish academic experts believe that the Eastern Partnership (EaP) does not constitute a direct threat to Spanish interests in the Mediterranean region. However, it is true that the EaP competes with Mediterranean initiatives. In this context, Spain is trying to guarantee that the EaP does not substrate economic resources from the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) project and will not interfere in the rapprochement between the EU and Russia.[4] Nevertheless, Miguel Angel Moratinos, in his role as Spanish Foreign Minister during the Spanish Presidency, stressed the importance of the EU policy of strengthening relations with both Eastern Europe and the Southern Caucasus regions, emphasising the significance of them not as "sanitary belts", but rather as areas of cooperation and interaction with the European Union.
Regarding the UfM, established at French instigation in July 2008, the Spanish initial reaction to the initiative was not enthusiastic at all. Spain’s main concern was that the initiative could damage the Barcelona Process launched in 1995. After these initial hesitations, Spain has backed this project as a way to reinvigorate EU-Mediterranean cooperation. Traditionally, during Spanish presidencies, the southern Mediterranean has been given special attention, and Spain has sought to impulse European action in this area. However, this time, the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has created great difficulties for the Spanish Presidency of the EU. Despite this negative environment, Jordanian Ahmed Khalaf Masad was appointed as the Secretary-General of the UfM, and the statutes of the Secretariat, which will be based in Barcelona, were finally approved. Nevertheless, the first warning over the difficulties to adopt any kind of agreement could be seen in April, with the failure of the adoption of a water-management strategy, it had to be dropped after a dispute over references to the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel.[5]
Spain had included the celebration of the second Heads of State Euromediterranean Summit in its presidency programme with the aim to address the main topics on the global agenda (economic crisis, climate change, energy, food security, etc.) from the Mediterranean standpoint. Regardless of the intense diplomatic work, Spain had to postpone the summit that was scheduled to take place in Barcelona on 7 June 2010. The postponement was agreed by Spain and co-chair nations France and Egypt. The Spanish government said the move was intended to give more time for indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which began on 19 May 2010 after more than a year.[6]
It must be noted that the preparations for the summit had been overshadowed by a threat by some Arab governments to abstain if Israel’s Foreign Minister was to attend. Spain did not want to celebrate a Mediterranean summit without the attendance of the main Mediterranean leaders. The summit has now been tentatively scheduled for the third week in November 2010 with the aim to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the 1995 Barcelona Summit. The postponement produced disappointment and was received by the mass media as a new diplomatic setback for Spain’s EU Presidency, since an EU-U.S. summit that was to have been held in May in Madrid was also called off months ago when Washington announced that President Barack Obama would not attend. Besides the frustration of seeing the cancellation of the two main summits, the meeting held in Granada with Morocco cannot be considered a success either, if one judges it by the weight of the issues that were dealt with.[7]

[1] Even in the case of Turkey, there is no significant debate about the advantages and disadvantages of Turkish membership or of its consequences for Spain. According to the 23rd Wave of the Elcano barometer (March 2010), 44 percent of the Spaniards support Turkey’s future membership. See:  (last access: 29 July 2010).

[2] See also: Graham Avery: The Expanding European Union: How to Evaluate the Policy? What Prospects for Spain’s Presidency?, ARI 27/2010, Madrid 2010: Elcano Royal Institute, available at: (last access: 29 July 2010).

[3] More information is available at: (last access: 29 July 2010).

[4] Deniz Devrim/Evelina Schulz: The Eastern Partnership: An Interim Step Towards Enlargement?, ARI 22/2009 - 10/2/2009, available at: (last access: 29 July 2010) and Alvaro García Navarro: The Eastern Partnership and the Regional Dynamics within The EU; What consequences for Spain?, available at: (last access: 29 July 2010).

[5] More information regarding the water strategy is available at: (last access: 29 July 2010); (last access: 29 July 2010); (last access: 29 July 2010).

[6] See: (last access: 29 July 2010).

[7] See also Kristina Kausch: Morocco’s ‘Advanced Status’: Model or Muddle?, FRIDE Policy Brief 43. Madrid 2010: FRIDE, available at:¿que-significado-tiene? (last access: 29 July 2010).