From 1 July to 31 December 2023, Spain will hold the presidency of the Council of the EU for the fifth time in its history. It is thereby responsible for organising Council meetings and representing the Council vis-à-vis other EU institutions.
What is the Council of the European Union?
The Council of the EU is the name given to meetings of the ministers of the Member States. Together with the European parliament, it has legislative and budgetary functions, and is responsible for policy coordination. The government ministers from each EU country meet to discuss, amend and adopt legislative measures and coordinate policies.
The Council of the EU meets in a format of ten different configurations depending on the subject to be discussed. For example, if the meeting in question is a Financial Council meeting, it will be chaired by the Minister for Finance of the country holding the presidency.
The Council of the EU should not be confused with the European Council. The latter brings together the heads of state and government of the Member States, the permanent president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission, and is responsible for setting the political guidelines of the EU.
The Council of the EU should also be distinguished from the Council of Europe, which is an international organisation aimed at promoting the shaping of a common political and legal space on the continent, based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The Council of Europe is made up of 47 European countries, including the 27 EU Member States.
Which country chairs the Council of the EU?
The presidency is held on a six-month rotating basis by a Member State of the EU.
What are the functions of the presidency of the Council of the EU?
The presidency of the Council of the EU organises and leads Council meetings. During the six months of the presidency, more than a thousand meetings are held, ranging from those where the ministers responsible for each sector come together to those for technical experts in each of the subjects under discussion.
The presidency of the Council also represents the Council before the other EU institutions, including the European Commission and the European Parliament. Together with these two bodies, the Council of the EU carries out so-called trilogues, aimed at adopting legislative acts, including directives and regulations.
The EU may also be represented by the presidency of the Council of the EU in other international fora, although this responsibility is often shared with other figures such as the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission.
What is the role of the presidency of the Council of the EU?
The Council presidency must be neutral and facilitate the conclusion of agreements between the Member States of the EU. In this respect, the presidency must prioritise mediation between the different positions of the EU Member States, leaving its own national interests aside.
The ultimate goal of the presidency is for the 27 Member States to work together to achieve the best results for the EU and its citizens.
How many times has Spain chaired the Council?
This is the fifth time that Spain has held the presidency of the Council of the EU. The previous ones were in 1989, 1995, 2002 and 2010.
The first Spanish presidency began on 1 January 1989, when the EU was made up of twelve countries. One of the main achievements during this presidency was the decision at the Madrid Summit to initiate the first phase of the creation of the Economic and Monetary Union, a fundamental step which would eventually lead to the establishment of a common currency 12 years later.
Progress was also made on job security and the Common Agricultural Policy, and the idea of economic and social cohesion, essential to compensate for the shortcomings of the poorest countries in the internal market, was launched and would later take the form of the Cohesion Funds.
The second Spanish presidency came at a crucial time for the bloc, in 1995, as three new members (Austria, Sweden and Finland) had just joined, and a process of reflection was under way that would lead to the signing of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997. And on 26 March 1995, another of the greatest achievements of the European Community project, the Schengen Area, was put into operation in seven Member States, including Spain. It involved the removal of internal border controls to allow the free movement of people and goods, and is nowadays in force in 27 countries.
During this presidency, or more precisely at the Madrid European Council in December, it was decided to christen the single currency with the name ‘euro’, and EU relations with the Mediterranean countries were boosted with the signing of the Barcelona Declaration, which was the origin of the Union for the Mediterranean.
During the third Presidency, in 2002, Spain once again took over the presidency of the Council at a momentous time for the EU, giving the go-ahead for its most important enlargement since its creation, from 15 to 27 members. On 1 January, the very day the Spanish semester started, the euro was introduced in 12 countries, including Spain.
Stemming from the crisis resulting from the 9/11 attacks in the US, Spain included the fight against transnational terrorism among its priorities, and important advances were made in the framework of the area of freedom, security and justice, A prominent example was the adoption of the European arrest warrant, known as the Euro-order.
The economic crisis, which affected all EU Eurozone countries, marked the fourth presidency, when Spain set itself the objective of promoting economic recovery through sustainable growth that would generate employment.
The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty – the last of the major reforms of EU law, on 1 December 2009 – meant that it fell to Spain to be the first to implement many of its provisions. Many of its innovations were related to the development of a Common Foreign and Security Policy, which would allow the EU to amplify its values and interests on the international stage.
What are the priorities of the Spanish presidency of the Council?
As President of the Government of Spain Pedro Sánchez explained on 15 June, the Spanish presidency has established four priorities for this six-month period.
Reindustrialise the EU and ensure its open strategic autonomy.
The international openness of the last seven decades has been of great benefit to the EU and has allowed it to achieve levels of economic growth and social welfare that would have been impossible under protectionism. However, it has also facilitated offshoring processes that have led to the loss of industries in strategic sectors and to excessive dependence on third countries in areas such as energy, health, digital technologies and food. The current geopolitical, technological and environmental changes under way offer the opportunity to reverse this trend.
To achieve this, the Spanish presidency will work on two fronts. First, it will promote dossiers to foster the development of strategic industries and technologies in Europe, the expansion and diversification of its trade relations and the strengthening of its supply chains, with particular emphasis on the EU-CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) Summit.
It will also propose a common strategy to ensure the EU’s economic security and global leadership by 2030. This will make it possible to continue and deepen the work of the European institutions and the roadmap agreed by the 27 States at the informal meeting of the Heads of State or Government in Versailles in March 2022.
Advancing ecological transition and environmental adaptation.
For Europeans, curbing climate change and environmental degradation is not only a legal and moral obligation, but also a huge opportunity. If well executed, the green transition will drastically reduce dependencies on energy and raw materials, substantially lower electricity bills, make businesses more competitive and create close to one million jobs in this decade alone.
The Spanish presidency will do its utmost to facilitate this transition. It will promote a reform of the electricity market that accelerates the deployment of renewable energies, reduces electricity prices and improves the stability of the system. In addition, it will speed up the processing of the pending Fit for 55 legislative documents, such as the gas and hydrogen package and the energy efficiency regulations. And it will promote measures for the reduction of waste and microplastics, sustainable product design and the generation of green fuels.
All these measures are aimed at the EU continuing to lead the global fight against climate change and to do so by creating wealth and new opportunities throughout its territory.
Promote greater social and economic justice.
Europe needs a more competitive economy, but also a fairer and more united economy. We must ensure that the wealth generated reaches all citizens and serves to improve their opportunities and living conditions.
Therefore, the Spanish presidency will advocate the establishment of common minimum standards for corporate taxation in all Member States and will combat tax evasion by large multinationals, which costs the EU 1.5 GDP points each year, i.e. the same as it spends on housing and environmental protection.
It will also work for a proper revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, and also for a reform of the fiscal rules to overcome austerity, increase transparency and combine the sustainability of public finances with the proper financing of the green and digital transitions.
Last, it will push for the extension of workers’ rights in different areas and for vulnerable groups such as children, women suffering from gender-based violence and people with disabilities.
Strengthening European unity.
In a world of uncertainty and rising geopolitical tensions, the EU must stand united. Member States must therefore continue to make progress on integration and develop tools that will enable them to face the major challenges of our time together.
The Spanish presidency will also focus on the further deepening of the internal market, the completion of the banking union and the capital markets union, the consolidation and improvement of common instruments such as the ‘NextGenerationEU’ funds, more efficient and coordinated management of migration and asylum processes, and coordinated support for Ukraine and other neighbouring states.
It will also work for the development of shared identity and values and for a new phase in the development of the European project.