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Thursday, 10 December 2009

All Change As Spain Takes Reins

Spain, which will hold the rotating presidency of the European Union from 1 January 2010, unveiled its priorities for its six-month term this week.  As might be expected, creating jobs and recovering from the economic crisis are at the top of the agenda.  Spain will be the first of a new ‘trio presidency’, along with Belgium and Hungary, and the three countries have set out a coordinated work programme for the coming 18 months.

This will also be the first Presidency since the full ratification of the new Lisbon Treaty and the appointment of the new positions of President of the EU Council and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs.  As if this wasn’t enough change already, a new Parliament has taken office with a new Commission not far behind.  It is in many ways the start of a new phase in the evolution of the EU.

It remains to be seen how the changes brought on by the Lisbon Treaty will affect the role of the Presidency.  Diego Lopez Garrido, Spanish Secretary of State for EU Affairs, sees it as an important opportunity and is quoted as saying that his country’s Presidency “will set precedents”.  As well as the all-important economic recovery, Lopez Garrido highlights as priorities the implementation of the new instruments of the Lisbon Treaty, closing the gap between Europe and the people with an ambitious social agenda on citizenship and a renewed emphasis on foreign affairs to improve Europe’s standing on the global stage.

So where does this leave the environment and climate change as policy issues?  The Spanish Presidency’s priorities also include energy security and the fight against climate change and the common work programme of the trio presidency highlights the implementation of the Copenhagen climate change package as one of their main policy goals.  But after the Swedish Presidency and the UN summit at Copenhagen which have both pushed environment up the agenda, it may be that the environment will play a lesser role over the next six months as Spain, whose unemployment rate stands considerably higher than the EU average at almost 20%, puts its own priorities to the fore.

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