Spain’s presidency of the Council of the European Union

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Spain will assume the presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) on 1 July 2023. This blog explains what the Council of the EU is and how its work is relevant to that of the Scottish Parliament, summarises Sweden’s presidency in the first half of 2023, and gives an overview of Spain’s priorities for its presidency.

What is the Council of the EU?

The Council of the EU is an institution of the EU. It is one of the EU’s main decision-making bodies alongside the European Parliament. Its members are ministers of member states’ governments. The Council of the EU’s responsibilities are to:

  • negotiate and adopt EU laws
  • coordinate member states’ policies
  • develop the EU’s common foreign and security policy
  • conclude international agreements
  • adopt the EU budget.

What is the presidency of the Council of the European Union?

The main responsibilities of the presidency of the Council are to:

  • maintain continuity of the EU’s agenda
  • ensure sound law-making
  • facilitate cooperation and coordination between member states and EU institutions.

In practice, the presidency carries out its role by planning and chairing meetings of the sectoral councils across a number of policy areas such as economic and financial affairs, the environment, or foreign affairs. The presidency further represents the Council in dealings with other EU institutions.

The presidency’s legislative priorities are informed by the work programme of the European Commission. SPICe has published a briefing on the European Commission Work Programme for 2023

The presidency of the Council rotates every six months. Member states work in groups of three (called a ‘trio’) to hold the presidency and set a longer-term programme over 18 months. Each member of the trio then sets a shorter-term programme for its presidency. This system was established by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009. The current presidency is held by Sweden. A new trio, Spain, Belgium and Hungary, will begin with Spain’s presidency.

The Council and Scotland

Whilst the UK has left the EU, legislative and policy developments in the EU are still of interest to Scotland, due to the Scottish Government’s policy commitment to align with EU law, and the fact that to trade with the EU, Scottish businesses need to comply with EU rules. In January 2020, the Scottish Government published ‘European Union’s Strategic Agenda 2020-2024: Scotland’s Perspective’ in which it committed to proactively engaging with EU institutions. It stated:

We will systematically enter into dialogue with each Presidency country on their plans for their term of office and on areas for potential collaboration.

The Constitution, Europe, External Affairs, and Culture Committee has agreed that it remains important to engage with EU legislative developments. It held an evidence session with the Swedish Ambassador to the UK on 19 January 2023.

What happened during Sweden’s presidency?

Sweden holds the presidency of the Council for the first half of 2023. Key outcomes of its presidency include:

Spanish presidency of the Council

Spain’s presidency of the Council with the motto “Europe, closer” will start on 1 July 2023 and run until 31 December 2023. The next European Parliament elections will take place in May 2024, during Belgium’s presidency, and a new European Commission will subsequently be appointed. This means that the Spanish presidency will be the last full-length presidency during which substantive progress to advance the legislative agenda of the current European Parliament and Commission is likely to be made.

The Spanish presidency launched its website and presented its four priorities for the presidency on 15 June 2023:

  • reindustrialisation
  • green transition
  • social and economic justice
  • European unity.

Domestic political developments in Spain had led the Spanish Government to call a snap national election for 23 July 2023 and subsequently request that the presentation of its priorities for the presidency be delayed. A formal presentation of the Council to the European Parliament is reported as being postponed until September 2023. An article by Politico states that a change in government in Spain during its presidency could affect priorities relating to the green transition, social justice, and unity within the EU. News website Euractiv reported Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez as saying the following about the potential impact of domestic political developments on the presidency:

It is not something that worries anyone. No one in Europe has raised any doubts. The facts show that you can have successful presidencies with electoral cycles

The Spanish presidency’s four priorities for its presidency are summarised below.

Reindustrialise the EU and ensure its open strategic autonomy

As its first priority, the Spanish presidency wants to tackle what it terms the EU’s ‘excessive dependency’ on third countries in areas such as energy, health, digital technologies and food. It aims to do this by promoting the development of industries and technologies in the EU, as well as diversifying the EU’s trade relations. To this end, it identifies the proposal of a strategy for economic security in the EU, and a summit in July between the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States as particularly important.

Advance in the green transition and the environmental adaptation

The Spanish presidency’s second priority is to promote the EU’s green transition. It states that these changes are both an obligation as well as an opportunity to create jobs and reduce the EU’s reliance on energy and finite raw materials. To advance the green transition, the presidency will advocate reform of the electricity market and the reduction of waste as well as advance further components in the EU’s Fit for 55 programme.

Promoting greater social and economic justice

Spain’s third priority for its presidency is to advance social and economic justice in the EU. It states:

In the future, it will not be enough for Europe’s GDP to grow. It will be necessary to ensure that the wealth generated benefits all citizens and serves to improve their opportunities and living standards. We need a more competitive economy, but also a fairer and more caring one.

To this end, the presidency will focus on tackling tax evasion, reforming fiscal rules in the EU, and promoting common standards on corporate taxation in member states.

Strengthening European unity

Spain’s fourth priority is to strengthen the EU’s unity in the context of geopolitical tensions. Two key areas of focus for the Spanish presidency are to make improvements to the migration and asylum system through the Pact on Migration and Asylum and to deepen the EU’s internal market.

In a statement on 15 June 2023, the Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, said:

Throughout these last decades, Europe has shown how much it can do for Spain. Now, the time has come for Spain to show the world how much we can do for Europe. Our country assumes the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union with humility and gratitude. But also with ambition, determined to make it a useful instrument to improve the lives of citizens. We want to vindicate the Europe of the people, the one that attends to their needs, their demands, the one that offers opportunities and also answers to the challenges of the citizenry and also of their environment, the one that anticipates, in short, the future.

Annie Bosse, SPICe Research

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