What does the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU entail?

by Lorraine Williamson
The council of the EU

MADRID – On July 1, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez assumed the presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), which Spain will hold until December 31. 

For this, Sánchez has chosen Kyiv as the location for the first event of the Spanish Presidency. He was accompanied there by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Spanish Prime Minister gave a speech to the parliament of Kyiv. In it, the prime minister emphasised Spain’s support and involvement with the Ukrainians in the war against Russia. He also praised the “determination” and “courage” of the Ukrainians, as well as their European aspirations and their path towards EU accession. 

In addition, the Spanish Prime Minister announced that €55 million will be sent for the reconstruction of the country and promised that the supply of weapons from Spain to Ukraine will continue. 

In his speech, Sánchez reiterated his commitment to the Ukrainians “for as long as it takes, regardless of the price we have to pay”. He also stressed Europe’s rejection of Russia, calling the Russian invasion of Ukraine “illegal and unjustified” and expressing confidence in Ukraine’s victory for their “determination, strength and courage”. 

Rotating function 

The Presidency of the Council of the EU is a rotating position held by the different Member States of the Union for a period of six months since 1958. The respective country presides over Council meetings for six months to ensure the continuity of the work of the EU in this institution. 

During the presidency, Spain will hold 23 informal ministerial meetings in 21 cities across the country, with Granada hosting the meeting of heads of state of government on 6 October. The early general elections on 23 July coincide with the first stages of the Spanish presidency. This will see his leadership begin with a coalition government, although cabinet changes are expected after the election. 

The presidency of the EU Council – involving ministers from ten different policy areas of the member states of the Union – is held on a rotating basis by the member states for a period of six months, as stated on the institution’s website. In other words, it is a directive that is not elected, but that passes through all Member States, with the Council itself determining the order of rotation. 

Spain priorities 

Spain’s priorities during its presidency of the EU Council are grouped into four blocks: the reindustrialisation of Europe, progress towards ecological transition and environmental adaptation, social and economic justice on the continent, and the strengthening of European unity. 

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23 informal meetings of ministers 

Over the next six months, 23 informal ministerial meetings will take place in Spain in 21 cities, involving all Autonomous Communities. During these meetings, initiatives related to a specific subject or Council formation are discussed. Other relevant meetings will also take place, such as the General Affairs Council on 27 and 28 September in Murcia and the meeting of the European Political Community (October 5), and the meeting of Heads of State and Government on 6 October, both in Granada. 

What is the Council of the EU? 

It is one of the two legislative bodies that make up the European Union. The other body is the European Parliament. However, the European Council has a bigger role than the European Parliament, because it has powers over more subjects. Moreover,it is the institution in which the representatives/heads of government sovereignly elected by the citizens of each of the 27 member states of the EU reside. 

What role does the country in charge play? 

For half a year, Spain will act as moderator and coordinator of the debates. This limits the country in defending its positions. What does give the country holding the presidency a lot of leeway is the pace it gives to certain debates, because it controls the agenda, although this is not an exclusive control over the topics discussed in the Council. 

How many times has Spain been president? 

Spain now holds the Presidency of the Council for the fifth time. Felipe González’s governments fulfilled this role twice: once in the first half of 1989, the first time Spain took on this task, and again in the second half of 1995. 

The third time was the government of José María Aznar, between January and June 2002. The fourth and last time was with José Luis Rod ríguez Zapatero in the first half of 2010, amid the financial crisis and when he was forced to announce budget cuts. 

The growing intervals between each presidency are caused by the enlargements of the EU that took place after Spain joined the club in 1986. With the accession of Spain and Portugal that year, the then-European Economic Community had 12 members. Now there are 27 members, after the departure from the United Kingdom. And all these years, the mechanism by which it is decided which country presides over the Council has not changed: in order and for six months. 

Sources: Newtral, El País 

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