Friday, 8 January 2010

Mr Bildt goes to Madrid

This is not Mr Smith goes to Washington – we are in Europe. The Spanish presidency of the Council of the European Union – the presidency website up and running again; Praised be the Saints! – arranges a number of festivities with Spanish and EU dignitaries to mark the beginning.

There is going to be an official flag-raising ceremony of the European and Spanish flags. Spain’s prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero will meet the president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and the president of the Commission José Manuel Durao Barroso. In the evening the Teatro Real will be the scene of an opening gala, arranged by the “Spanish presidency of the EU and Ministry of Culture”.

How was that again? Spanish presidency of the EU?

Even before the Lisbon Treaty it was somewhat presumptuous to speak about a country’s Presidency of the European Union, even if Sweden was guilty of just that, as was the Czech Republic in 2009. Perhaps surprisingly given the far from modest image-building of president Nicolas Sarkozy, the French semester in the second half of 2008 was described correctly, at least in official documents such as the work programme, as the French presidency of the Council of the [edited 8 Jan about 12:15 EET) European Union.

Yesterday Sweden’s blogging foreign minister Carl Bildt noted on his blog, Alla dessa dagar, that he would be going to Madrid for the ceremonial handing over of duties to the new leadership of the European Union: Utmaningar framöver (7 January 2010).

On 1 January 2010 Bildt had been quite explicit about what he meant by the new EU leadership; in Välkommen Spanien!

The presidency of the European Council is handed over by Fredrik Reinfeldt to Herman Van Rompuy, and the chairmanship of the foreign affairs council from me to Catherine Ashton. But with regard to the other Council configurations the system of rotating presidencies continues, and the baton now goes to Spain, said Bildt.

From Madrid, where the Spanish government is “selling” its agenda to invited journalists, Jean Quatremer reports on Coulisses de Bruxelles: Bruxelles ou la centralisation du pouvoir européen (8 January 2010):

Mais, avec l'entrée en vigueur du traité de Lisbonne, ce genre de voyage est, à terme, condamné: l'élection d'un président permanent du Conseil européen et d'un ministre européen des affaires étrangères devrait, en effet, aboutir à une centralisation du pouvoir à Bruxelles, même si l'Espagne a encore du mal à l'admettre.

With the election of the president of the European Council (of the heads of state or government) and the high representative, the end for these trips is in sight, even if Spain finds it painful to admit.

Symbols and ceremonies are part and parcel of political communications, precise wording an art much appreciated. reports that the Spanish ambassador to Bulgaria, Jorje Fuentes, stated that Spain is going to do its best in order to support the new institutions created with the Lisbon Treaty; in Ambassador: Spanish Presidency Set to Boost New EU Institutions (7 January 2010).

The signals from Madrid seem a bit mixed this far: Old habits, but support for new structures.

When Mr Bildt goes to Madrid, despite his capacity for acerbic wit, a gentle prod into the Lisbon Treaty era is perhaps in store for the Spanish presidency of the Council configurations, other than that of foreign affairs.

In effect, is it correct to speak even about the presidency of the Council, when the Lisbon Treaty limits it to the other Council configurations?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. In a short time, Julien Frisch has become one of the leading advocates of the euroblogosphere, practising what he teaches on his frequently updated blog, which registers the hopes and frustrations of an engaged citizen of Europe. His blog is listed among the more than 500 great euroblogs on multilingual, a useful one-stop-shop for fact, opinion and gossip on European affairs, i.a. politics, policies, economics, finance and law.