European Affairs

The Spanish Presidency Proposes "More Europe"     Print Email
José María Aznar López

Two words sum up the objectives of the Spanish Presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2002: "More Europe." The slogan signifies Europe's determination to claim its rightful place on the world stage, and the fact that the European project has been adopted by the majority of Europe's citizens, including those in Spain.

Spain now has the responsibility of pushing forward the main subjects on the European agenda, because an effective union is essential if we are to improve the living conditions of Europe's citizens.


But the European Union also faces serious political and security challenges following the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11.

The fight against terrorism has become the primary objective of the European Union and it will be the first priority of Spain during the six months of its Presidency. The second priority will be to ensure a smooth transition to the common currency, the euro.

Thirdly, Spain will work to energize economic and social reforms with the goal of full employment in a framework of stability, prosperity and growth. Fourthly, Spain will press ahead with negotiations to enlarge the European Union, which have now reached a crucial stage, in order to meet negotiating deadlines.

Fifthly, Spain will promote the Common Foreign and Security Policy and work to improve its effectiveness. The sixth priority will be to initiate and facilitate debate on the future of an enlarged Europe.

We now know that terrorism threatens the very essence of our society. During our Presidency the fight against terrorism will address the following areas of primary concern:

  • We will continue the legislative work of the European Union to ensure the mutual recognition of judicial decisions, based on the supremacy of the rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms.
  • We will promote greater cooperation among the judges of member states through Eurojust, a new institution intended to facilitate such cooperation, which will soon start operating.
  • We will work to improve coordination among EU security and police forces so as to encourage joint investigations and better ¤ows of information on terrorist activities.
  • We will seek to cut off all financing of terrorist organizations, and promote international action through the United Nations, the Group for International Financial Action and the convention for the elimination of the financing of terrorism.
  • We will push for the conclusion of the Global United Nations Convention Against Terrorism, and review EU relations with foreign countries in the light of any support those countries might give to terrorism.

An important aim of our Presidency on the anti-terrorism front will be to strengthen cooperation with the United States. Among other things, Spain will advocate the start of negotiations leading to a Treaty on Cooperation in Criminal Law Matters between the European Union and the United States.

The second priority of our Presidency, the single currency, re¤ects the fact that one of the most important milestones of European integration was passed on January 1, when euro bills and coins entered into circulation throughout the 12-nation euro zone.

This event has conferred on us a great responsibility. We will follow the consequences of this huge monetary operation very carefully, in close collaboration with the Commission, the European Central Bank and our euro zone partners.

The euro will rapidly become a symbol of identity for the European Union, and for all Spaniards and European citizens. The single currency will identify us as members of a single area in which we live together in stability and prosperity.

The euro bills and coins are the most tangible and clear evidence that, if we have the necessary political will and determination, Europeans can reach ambitious goals, no matter how difficult they may appear.

That must also apply to the budgetary goals we have set for ourselves, which have so far well fulfilled their objectives. Now, in the current difficult economic environment and with the entry into circulation of the euro, the commitment of all member States to the Pact for Stability and Growth should be stronger than ever.

The euro makes a single, truly open and dynamic market even more essential. But it is clearer than ever that there are still steps that need to be taken before we can reach the integrated economic space we all desire. This is the third priority of the Spanish Presidency.

In order to equip Europe with a greater capacity to grow and to create employment, we are counting on the strategy for economic and social reform agreed

two years ago by EU leaders in Lisbon. Spain will continue its commitment to this strategy during its Presidency.

At the European Council due to be held in Barcelona in March, we shall have an opportunity to analyze the challenges that still await us. We shall also have a chance to give the European reform agenda a new push forward.

Everyone knows the current international economic situation is not favorable, but this should not be used as an excuse to postpone necessary, urgent reforms. On the contrary, it should be an additional justification for carrying them out. Those reforms are the best way to make Europe one of the most competitive, dynamic and prosperous economic areas in the world.

They are ambitious objectives, but I am convinced that they are within our reach if we work diligently in Barcelona, and if we lay out our work for the years to come, carefully balancing economic, social and environmental priorities.

At Barcelona, the Presidency will focus on the following five specific areas:

  • The interconnection and opening up of European transportation networks.
  • The liberalization and interconnection of electricity and gas markets.
  • The integration of financial markets to make Europe a true financial power.
  • The development of a more ¤exible labor market capable of creating more jobs.
  • Improvements in education and in the training of students and workers, as well as increased worker mobility.

The European Council in Barcelona will also be the first to include candidate countries for EU membership in a formal working meeting so as to bring them closer to active participation in the economic and social reform process. The Council will thus send a special message of political support for the expansion of the European Union, which is the fourth priority of Spain's Presidency.

As the enlargement negotiations enter their final stages, Spain is determined to reach agreements that are acceptable to all. Spain will work to achieve common positions in the areas with the greatest financial implications such as agriculture, regional policies and financial provisions.

The sectors due to be negotiated during the Spanish Pres-idency represent 80 to 100 percent of the EU budget. Common EU positions in these areas must respect EU custom and the current financial framework which was agreed by EU leaders at their summit meeting in Berlin in March 1999.

Any deviation from these directives, which were agreed by all member states, would prematurely reopen a debate that would undoubtedly call into question the final results of the negotiations.

The European Council due to be held in Seville on June 21 and 22 will conduct a first examination of the status of the negotiations in their entirety, and we aim to begin drafting membership treaties and their related documents during our Presidency.

I also want to stress that the Spanish Presidency is counting on the presence of Turkey at all EU meetings in which candidate countries participate. Spain is in charge of moving forward the review of the Turkish Association Agreement, and it will do so prior to establishing specific new goals to help Turkey move closer toward full EU membership.

Since September 11, one of our top priorities has been to give the European Union a real role on the international stage.

The many new threats to international stability make it absolutely necessary to strengthen joint EU action.

The Spanish Presidency will be dedicated to achieving the following objectives:

  • Develop the common European Security and Defense Policy.
  • Foster improved Transatlantic relations.
  • Establish and develop a solid framework for ever-stronger relations between the EU and Russia.
  • Deepen relations between the EU and Latin America.
  • Strengthen and develop the EU role in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

September 11 has only highlighted what was already a basic necessity for the Spanish Presidency: the need to strengthen the Transatlantic dialogue.

From now on we will have to redefine the Transatlantic agenda to include greater strategic and political content, without giving up on deepening our relations in many other areas in which the European Union and the United States share common objectives.

Spain will make every effort to see that the next EU-U.S. summit meeting consolidates our strategic relations. Another event that will be of special importance to fostering Transatlantic relations during the Spanish Presidency will be the summit meeting between the EU and Canada on May 8.

During the Spanish Presidency, Canada will hold the Presidency of the Group of Eight, and will host the G8 summit meeting from June 26 to 28 that Spain will attend in its capacity as President of the European Union.

Russia is also playing a role of great historical importance in the current crisis. It has adopted a strategy under which Moscow is clearly placing its bets on the values of liberty, democracy and the rule of law.

The European Union must support this strategy. Thus one of the priorities of our Presidency will be to deepen and consolidate relations between the European Union and Russia on the occasion of the Council of Cooperation meeting that will be held in April and the EU-Russia summit meeting due to take place in Moscow in May.

In addition to cooperation against terrorism, our meetings with Russia will deal with the energy dialogue and the Common European Economic Space. The goal will be to bring Russian legislation closer to EU legislation more quickly, and to establish a working plan for development of the EU-Russian Common Strategy on the future of our relations.

Inevitably, relations between Europe and Latin America are also a priority for our Presidency. We want to increase European interest in this region, which shares with us our respect for democracy, human rights and the defense of the rule of law.

We believe that stronger links between Europe and Latin America will be beneficial for both, politically and economically, and should serve to reinforce the values we share.

In May, the second EU-Latin American and Caribbean summit meeting will be held in Madrid. We want to renew and foster the strategic association between the two regions, which began to take shape, largely thanks to Spain, at the first summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1999. High-level meetings will also be held with Mercosur, with the Andean Community and with the Central American countries.

Just as an important free trade agreement was agreed with Mexico, thanks in part to Spanish efforts, we are working to achieve a similar pact with Chile. At the same time we will continue to push EU negotiations with Mercosur.

These agreements, besides raising the profile of our political relations, will also undoubtedly favor economic development in Latin America.

The Presidency of the European Union must also redouble its efforts to coordinate and consult with the United States and other sponsors of the peace process in the Middle East. In light of the September 11 attacks and recent violence on the ground in the Middle East, there is an urgent need to revitalize the dynamics of peace in the region.

The evolution of the Middle East con¤ict has a determining in¤uence on hopes of achieving advances in the European Union's Barcelona Process, the only forum for dialogue that brings together all the countries in the region that are involved in the peace process.

Progress in the search for peace could spur an advance in the political and security aspects of the Barcelona Process, which will be reviewed at an important Euro-Mediterranean meeting in Valencia in April.

The Spanish Presidency will also step up efforts to develop the economic and financial part of the Barcelona Process, and urge the European Union's Mediterranean partners to continue on the path of reform.

Spain will strive to conclude the agreements pending between the European Union and the Mediterranean countries, to create an internal Euro-Mediterranean market and to develop regional infrastructure strategies.

To that end, Spain will present a proposal to create a financial institution specializing in the financing of development projects in countries on the Southern shore of the Mediterranean.

Illegal immigration will also be given special attention during our Presidency. Spain has been working for months under the sponsorship of China and Vietnam to make a success of the ministerial meeting between the European Union and Asian countries due to be held in Lanzarote in April.

When the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, few imagined that barely 45 years later the European Union would develop a single domestic market or that millions of Europeans would use the same currency.

European integration has achieved many successes, and we must first evaluate those successes if we are to set more ambitious goals for the future. The debate on the future of Europe that is now being launched is intended to respond to this requirement.

The Laeken Declaration adopted by the European Council in December marks the beginning of a new stage in the debate on the future of Europe. A convention is being convened to develop options for the reform of the EU Treaties at the Inter-Governmental Conference planned for 2004.

The Presidency will try to ensure that the work of the convention is focused, specific and realistic, and that it takes into account the concerns and aspirations of our citizens.

So these are our priorities: the fight against terrorism; the introduction of the euro; the continuation of economic and social reforms; compliance with the target dates for EU enlargement; the development of a foreign and defense policy; and the debate on the future of Europe.

Only if specific advances are made on these priorities shall we be able to say that we have successfully contributed to Europe's becoming the area for prosperity, liberty, security, and openness that its citizens demand and desire - in short, that we have delivered "more Europe."

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number III, Issue number I in the Winter of 2002.