BRUSSELS – Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister, takes over today the rotating six-month EU presidency. He will inherit more than the usual catalogue of economic and foreign policy challenges. As Spain expects to play a leading role in pushing forward a new 10-year European Union plan for jobs, economic growth and innovation they will have to tread a careful path, working with other countries to make a success of its presidency and at the same time to inject enough Spanish elements into its presidency in order to win favour with the domestic Spanish public opinion.
Another priority of the Spanish foreign policy is improving relations with Cuba and pushing for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, as well as expediting Croatia's European Union membership and improving relations with Turkey.
Still, Spain’s biggest challenges remain coping with the economic crisis, at home and within the European Union. The main goal is to get the European Union's new 10-year economic strategy agreed. The economic plan will likely focus on the need for green technologies, education tailored to industries needs and greater emphasis on research.
Prime Minister Zapatero is seeking to recover lost ground by becoming a star on the international stage.
Two events are illustrating Zapatero's intentions. Spain will host a summit in May with Latin American countries in Madrid. There is also in planning the first ever European Union's summit with Morocco.
These events underline Spain's emphasis on the European Union’s relationships with its Mediterranean neighbours and its former Latin American empire.
A key test of the new diplomatic protocol will be the EU-US summit in Madrid on May 25th.
Spain has already signalled that it will let Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, the new Council President, chair summits with third countries in Spain, with the Spanish Prime Minister at his side.
Spain will chair ministerial meetings on the economy, Eurozone policy, the environment and energy. Furthermore, Spain will face the challenge of restoring the European Union's role as a world leader in the battle against climate change.
Spain is also keen to help Lady Ashton build-up, as soon as possible, the European Union's External Action Service (EEAS), a kind of pan-European diplomatic corps, which intends to project the European Union’s global influence more effectively.
How Spain will manage the new set-up will likely be used as a template for future presidencies. There is a sense that the rotating presidency role in the European Union will never be the same any more.