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EU: Our guide to the Spanish Presidency of the Council

Public Affairs
EU: Our guide to the Spanish Presidency of the Council

By Ishanya Nadkarni and Laura Huckstep

The Spanish government will be taking over the presidency of the Council of the EU on July 1, 2023, as the first of a new trio along with Belgium and possibly Hungary. In this regard, the Spanish presidency will have a leading role in setting the tone for the near-term policy agenda, as well as in negotiations with other EU institutions on several topics and pending legislative initiatives.

With less than a week to go before taking over from the Swedes, Madrid has officially – if slightly belatedly – announced its priorities for its own presidency, following a request for an extension to finalise its preparations. There were, however, preliminary indications about Spain’s agenda, following the publication of a list of  priorities in mid-June via the Presidency’s official website. The delay came after Spanish Prime Minister Sánchez (S&D) called for a snap election, scheduled for July 23. This has added new and interesting political considerations to the already challenging role, as it represents the last “full” presidency before the 2024 European Parliament election campaign starts in earnest.

While there had been limited official communication regarding the presidency’s objectives, considering both insider expectations and new announcements the Spaniards are expected to focus on several key areas during their tenure. Starting strong with the strategic autonomy of specific industries, the Spanish presidency will focus on the expansion and diversification of trade relations. There will also be reforms in the green transition and environmental adaptation, with a focus on reducing waste and energy dependence. The presidency will also work towards the promotion of greater social and economic justice, with an emphasis on fighting tax evasion. Finally, it will also build on strengthening European unity by reforming common instruments and promoting internal EU rebalancing as well as enlargement.

Unofficial sources note other priorities, such as health and pharmaceuticals, and there are hopes for industrial reforms. The presidency also hopes to introduce reforms in digital transformation, with the agenda revolving around artificial intelligence. Finally, it will actively champion Ukraine’s cause, ensuring continued support from all member states.

Spanish priorities include:

1. Reindustrialising the EU and ensuring its open strategic autonomy

Spain’s approach includes promoting strategic autonomy in the digital, green, biotech, and AI industries, particularly in semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, and batteries, while also fostering coordinated tech entrepreneurship. It will also focus on the expansion and diversification of its trade relations and the strengthening of its supply chains, giving special attention to Latin America and the EU-CELAC Summit.

2. Reforms in green transition and environmental adaptation

The government aims to reduce food waste through technology investment in the agri-food sector, advance the Green Deal, and minimise energy dependence on Russia by promoting renewable energy development.

3. Promotion of greater social and economic justice

The Spanish presidency will advocate for the establishment of minimum and common standards on corporate taxation in all member states and will fight tax evasion by large multinationals. There will also be efforts towards the revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021–2027 and the adequate reform of fiscal rules. There will also be a push for the extension of workers’ rights in several areas and for vulnerable groups such as children, women suffering from violence, and people with disabilities.

4. Strengthening European unity

Spain will advocate for a greater deepening of the internal market, the completion of the banking and capital markets union, as well as reforms for common instruments such as NextGenerationEU. Internal rebalancing of EU institutions, along with EU enlargement, is also on the table.

Additional priorities include:

  • Health 

The presidency prioritises health, aiming to enhance access to advanced medical procedures, reduce diseases like cancer and HIV, address mental health, and promote comprehensive and competitive pharmaceutical industry reforms.

  • Digital transformation 

Spain will pursue negotiations on the regulation of AI (the AI Act), as well as talks on cyber-resilience. Much of the member states’ work under the Spanish presidency will also focus on the correct transposition and implementation of the new electronic communication regulations, establishing partnerships for digital transformation, and promoting inclusive and ethical digitalisation.

What next?

In sum, the Spanish presidency’s ambitions will remain relatively modest – confirming the observation that “big” member states traditionally achieve less than smaller ones in their semester.

Several factors can easily explain that: Spain is still in post-Covid recovery, and unlike much of its neighbours, has had to deal with lasting double-digit inflation. The political crisis – and the weakened social-democratic leadership – has also been plaguing the country, whose reaction to the war in Ukraine and resulting energy shortage has been diverging from the rest of the continent.

A third reason for a low-key presidency is the limited number of high-profile legislative proposals yet to negotiate – apart from already existing grand plans (AI, Green Deal, reindustrialisation etc.), there are no “new” files to be crafted or negotiated before the EU goes back to speculation games. Who is returning to the European Parliament? Will there still be an EPP leadership in 2024? Is Ursula von der Leyen coming back to lead the European Commission?

All these questions are left unanswered today, and the Spanish presidency can be expected to only play a limited part in shedding further light on the EU’s future direction of travel.

For more information on what the Spanish Presidency of the EU Council means, get in touch.

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