Major parties support the Lisbon Treaty

The next Spanish national elections will be held on 9 March 2008, following the dissolution of the current Parliament on 14 January 2008. Thus, the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty can start only after the formation of the new government resulting from these elections. Obviously, no official timetable for ratification has been announced yet. Alberto Navarro, the current Spanish Secretary for the European Union, declared on 17 January that ratification would not take place until June or July at the earliest. It is, however, unlikely for the entire ratification process to be completed by the new Parliament before the summer and it is even possible for there to be a delay until September or October 2008.
Although the call to elections has had some effect on this uncertainty regarding the timetable, there is no need to wait for the outcome of the elections to foresee that the required majority for ratification will be easily reached in the next Parliament. Both the socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (the Prime Minister in office who will try to secure a second term) and the conservative Mariano Rajoy (leader of the Popular Party who will seek to regain the power his party lost four years ago) support the Lisbon Treaty.[1] Although this has been an extremely conflict-ridden parliamentary term for the two major parties, the deep disagreements between them have been based on domestic reasons – moral issues, territorial politics or how to handle the fight against Basque separatist terrorism – while EU policy has continued to be an area in which bipartisan agreement still dominates.
The government has declared that the Treaty does not require a referendum[2] and, despite not having formally announced its position, the Popular Party seems to agree that a new popular vote is unnecessary[3] (the preceding Constitutional Treaty was already endorsed by a large majority of voters, even with a low turnout rate, in a consultative referendum which was held in 2005). Public opinion and the media are not calling for a referendum either, since there is a broad social consensus among Spaniards on the advantages of European integration. However, even if the strong support consistently shown towards the EU appears unchanged, the responsiveness and level of communication of policy makers with Spain’s citizens in the current stage of the integration process is relatively poor.[4] A less favourable economic situation could lead to increased disaffection and could negatively influence the relation between a passive wider public and the few officials or party elites who tend to monopolise EU policy-making in Spain.[5]
In any case, following the elections and the formation of a new government, the Lisbon Treaty will be ratified without a doubt in Parliament’s two chambers. Since both main parties – PSOE and PP – appear to be in favour, an overwhelming majority of close to 95% of the vote will be reached (and only an absolute majority of 51% is required in the Congress of Deputies – i.e., 176 votes out of 350 deputies – and for subsequent approval in the Senate). Of the minor parties, the moderate Catalan and Basque nationalists also support the Treaty. Only the left-wing United Left and the radical nationalist parties (with less than 5% of the seats in Congress) are against it.
The establishment of an independent Reflection Group (the so-called ‘Committee of the Wise’) at the last European Council, adapting the original idea launched by President Sarkozy, has generally been well considered in Spain as an opportunity to help the EU to anticipate future challenges. Some of the issues and developments which the ‘Committee’ has to discuss as areas for potential strengthening of EU action are precisely the topics in which Spain has the most interest, such as immigration, energy policy and the fight against terrorism. The limits imposed on the Committee’s agenda with regard to institutional matters or current EU policies should help safeguard the ongoing ratification of the Reform Treaty and the success of the budgetary revision currently in progress. Therefore, this somewhat limited mandate has been well accepted. Since it is not clear if the ‘wise’ men will discuss Turkey’s prospective membership, Spain – that supports enlargement – will await the development of the workings and discussions within the Group. However, some statements attributed to the Committee’s President, Felipe González, defending an alternative solution to full membership for Turkey[6] – perhaps only a ‘privileged partnership’ – could anticipate future divergences.
However, despite this specific discrepancy between the Spanish government and Felipe González, the appointment of a past Spanish socialist Prime Minister as the Chair of the Reflection Group helps the Committee’s overall positive impact and the idea that Spain might shape to some extent the results of the reflection. The government has stated to the Parliament that the election of González as President of the group is excellent news for Spain.[7] Furthermore, his high political profile and prestige[8] should help to bring about an active process of reflection and an ambitious outcome.

[1] It is clear that the Prime Minister – José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who signed the Reform Treaty in Lisbon last December – and his party – the PSOE – will vote in favour. The leader of the opposition Popular Party – Mariano Rajoy – also announced his support in the Parliament after the European Council. See addresses available at the Parliamentary Journal of Debates (Diario de Sesiones del Congreso de los Diputados), 19 December 2007, num. 309, available at: .

[2] Alberto Navarro, Secretary of State for the EU, 17 January 2008.

[3] Mariano Rajoy has just announced his support for a trouble-free ratification of the Treaty in a so-called ‘European meeting’ organised by the French UMP governing party in Paris on 30 January, alongside the French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

[4] See Elcano’s Barometer 16th Wave (BRIE issued November 2007), available at: .

[5] To involve some popular attachment in this process, the current Government plans to provide the Treaty ratification bill, including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, with legal binding effects and some reference to European symbols, such as the flag and the anthem, which are very well accepted in Spain.

[6] Quoted by J. Torreblanca in: .

[7] See the address of the Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero at the Parliamentary Journal of Debates (Diario de Sesiones del Congreso de los Diputados, VII Legislatura), 19 December 2007, num. 309, p. 15356, available at: .

[8] Felipe González has even been praised by the conservative leader Mariano Rajoy as someone who has clearly demonstrated he has many ideas about Europe. See his statement at the Parliamentary Journal of Debates (ibid, p. 15359).