Aznar pushes for “more Europe” as Spain prepares to take the EU helm

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Series Details Vol.7, No.46, 13.12.01, p22
Publication Date 13/12/2001
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Date: 13/12/01

The priorities and challenges facing the Spanish presidency will mark a historic moment for the future of the EU, writes Prime Minister José María Aznar

ON 1 January Spain will take over the presidency of the European Union at a transcendent moment both for Europe and for the world since the tragic events of 11 September that, for international relations, marked a 'before and after'.

In leading the EU, Spain will continue the work done by previous presidencies in steering projects and initiatives that have been put into practice. We will also seek to contribute to more integration, making a special point of those aspects that best define European interests in a historic moment for the future of the Union as it coincides with the long-expected launch of the single currency.

Spain's presidency is responsible for driving the main topics of the European agenda such as political collaboration, budget accuracy and structural reforms that allow increasing competition and employment.

All this considered, enlargement will drive us to a Europe that is free, democratic and respectful of human rights, with the final objective of improving the living conditions of all citizens.

The motto chosen for the Spanish presidency is 'More Europe' and it contains two messages. The first, a European message, is the will to achieve for Europe its corresponding place and weight in international relations; the second is a Spanish message, as the European project is adopted by the majority and supported by Spanish citizens.

For these reasons, our country will mark a process in which Spanish interests coincide fully with the EU interests. The Union faces three fundamental challenges if it is to continue as a decisive and active centre for freedom and prosperity: fighting terrorism, guaranteeing economic growth and meeting the historical duty of enlargement - without a loss of balance and efficient functioning of the institutions. All of this will occur at the same time the single currency enters circulation.

The above-mentioned challenges provide the setting for the six political priorities of Spain during its presidency:

  1. leading the fight against terrorism;
  2. ensuring the efficient and agile transition to the European single currency;
  3. driving for social and economic reforms to produce full employment in the context of economic stability, prosperity and growth; 4) continuing the negotiations to conclude the EU enlargement process;
  4. efficiently endowing the Common Foreign and Security Policy; and
  5. originating and fostering the debate on the future of the enlarged Union.

As far as the first priority is concerned, the fight against terrorism is provided for under the European Union Action Plan set in the European Councils of Brussels and Ghent. Since then, Eurojust has been agreed upon and will ease the cooperation between judges in the member states. Also, a common definition of terrorism has been adopted and a significant degree of agreement has been reached between member states on the European arrest and surrender warrant.

The European Justice, Security and Freedom Area achievement must be quickened and for that reason, Spain is working to obtain a common EU immigration and asylum policy.

Throughout the next six months, five major action areas will take shape: continuing legislative work to adapt and implement all the measures to reach mutual recognition of judicial decisions; starting Eurojust; coordinating and communicating between security forces of the member states; complying with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 to put an end to the possible financing of terrorist organisations; and finally, concluding the UN global agreement against terrorism and reviewing the relations between the EU and other countries in order to reinforce the transatlantic link.

The second priority of the presidency is the euro - an important aim for European integration and also a major responsibility. Our challenge is the introduction of a single, safe and easy currency for citizens in an economic-stability context. The euro, common to all Spaniards and European citizens, will quickly be a symbol for the Union and for coexistence, stability and prosperity.

The third priority is achieving the full employment objective set in Lisbon last year and taking into account that the present international economic situation does not allow us more delay in the necessary economic reforms.

This is why the Barcelona European Council objectives will be concentrated on five areas that are vital for a totally integrated social and economic area: opening and connecting the European transport and communication networks; liberalising the electricity and gas markets; integrating financial markets to change Europe into a real financial power; developing a flexible framework with the objective of full employment; and improving the education and training of European students and ensuring worker mobility.

The fourth important priority is enlargement. Negotiations on the principal chapters have progressed a lot but it is essential to move forward in collaboration with the Commision and the candidate countries to reach agreements on agriculture, regional policy and financial measures.

The Seville European Council will mark the first global consideration of the negotiations. Spain is aiming to start, during its presidency, the Membership Treaty draft and its corresponding appendix. We are counting on Turkey's participation in the whole process.

The fifth priority is endowing the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy with real effectiveness. To do this we must develop the following objectives.

To achieve an active EU in the international area, paying special attention to crisis management procedures and developing the military capacities in

the framework of a close collaboration with NATO. Strategic relations with the US and Canada will be reinforced in the summits that will take place between both countries and the EU.

  • To set and develop a solid relationship between the Union and Russia, at the Cooperation Council and the EU-Russia summit. During our dialogue we will take into account anti-terrorist cooperation and Russia's efforts to bring its legislation closer to the Community laws in this respect.
  • To reinforce relations between Europe and Latin America - a priority for Spain. The second Latin America and Carribean countries-EU summit will take place as well as specific meetings with Mercosur, the Andean Community, Mexico and Chile.
  • To give a new impetus to the Middle East peace process and reinforce

Euro-Mediterranean association as a framework for dialogue. Spain will promote the financial and economic chapter of the Barcelona process and the conclusion of the pending Association Agreements, paying attention to the problem of illegal immigration. The Euro-Mediterranean summit in Valencia will strenghthen relations in this context.

  • To seek agreements at the two United Nations summits on development and ageing.

The final priority is the debate on the future of the enlarged EU. The Laeken European Council declaration will launch the Convention preparing the Inter-Governmental Conference of 2004 and Spain will take on the responsability for implementing it.

These priorities are also challenges for the EU itself in the coming six months. Only if specific progress is achieved in these spheres can we say that we have efficiently worked to change Europe into a prosperous, free and secure area open to what its citizens demand.

Since our country joined the EU, the pride of being part of Europe has powered and guided Spain's actions.

The satisfaction of the fulfilment of the priorities and challenges that frame our presidency will be the starting point to look at the new century with optimism.

Aiming for the existence of a united and democratic Europe, we hope in the coming months to speak with one voice in the world.

The priorities and challenges facing the Spanish presidency will mark a historic moment for the future of the EU, writes the Spanish Prime Minister. Article is part of a special report on the Spanish Presidency of the EU, January-June 2002.

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