European Council, Barcelona, 15-16 March 2002

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Series Details 17.3.02
Publication Date 16/03/2002
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Described by Prime Minister Tony Blair as a "make or break" meeting, the Barcelona European Council focused on five specific areas:

  • interconnection and opening-up of the trans-European transport networks
  • liberalisation and interconnection of the electricity and gas markets
  • integrating the financial markets, to make Europe a real financial power
  • developing a more flexible labour market capable of creating more jobs
  • improving the education and training of Europe"s students and workers and increasing their scope for mobility

The Barcelona meeting was also supposed to decide where a clutch of new EU agencies should be located - following failure at the Laeken European Council in December 2001.

Prior to the meeting, Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar said it would be 'an opportunity to give fresh impetus to Europe"s agenda for reform'. Mr Aznar later commented that the Barcelona summit has made the economic and social reforms agreed at the March 2000 Lisbon European Council 'irreversible'.

Barcelona was the first European Council meeting to include leaders of the Candidate Countries as full participants. Following an agreement that Serbia and Montenegro should stay together, their Presidents also attended (the agreement could pave the way for EU membership).

The Summit - which took place on the outskirts of Barcelona - attracted protests, but not on the scale seen at similar high-profile events.


As is so often the case with these summits, the significance of the Barcelona European Council was somewhat overstated. In summer 2001 Tony Blair said that Barcelona would be a 'make-or-break' event for the EU; he later referred to the summit merely as a 'staging post'.

In a pre-summit letter to EU leaders, European Commission President Romano Prodi wrote:

'Two years into the Lisbon strategy, Barcelona is the ideal time to send a message of confidence both about our capacity to rapidly overcome the economic downturn and our commitment to real and lasting change. The citizens of Europe expect us to give clear signals of our political leadership to implement our economic, social and environmental strategy.'

Mr Prodi also warned leaders that setting priorities is not enough: 'attention will now turn increasingly to you, your governments and the European Parliament to take the necessary political decisions and implement them without any delay.'

Making his first speech to the European Council, Pat Cox MEP, the European Parliament"s new President, touched on a range of issues. Some of the sentiments he expressed were similar to those of President Prodi:

'The citizens of Europe look to the European Union institutions to demonstrate and deliver the added value provided by the European Union; on freedom and security, on growth and employment, on research and innovation, on fair deals for everybody.'


'All three institutions, the Parliament, the Council and the Commission must come together to agree on a set of guidelines to achieve more efficiency and transparency in the way we, together, make European laws. I am looking forward to a decision in Barcelona on establishing the forum for this discussion to take place.'

Mr Cox also emphasised the importance of foreign policy ('an area where the great majority of our fellow European citizens see the EU as having particularly significant added value.') and particularly of EU-US relations.

One of the most contentious issues discussed at the summit was the liberalisation of the gas and electricity markets. It was agreed that, from 2004, business and industrial users will be able to obtain gas and electricity supplies from other countries, thereby liberalising some 60% of the market. Although the exclusion of domestic consumers was a blow to some Member States, including Italy and the UK, Spain's Finance Minister, Rodrigo Rato, highlighted that progress had been made: 'A year ago there was no possibility of agreement at all, that is why we should be pleased.'

National interests once again played a significant part in the discussions. French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin - both of whom are candidates in the forthcoming Presidential election - wanted the public sector to be protected from competition. However, Denmark's Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, expressed his concern that national interests were put before those of the Union: 'There is a bit too much foot-dragging when it comes to the political will to see through reforms in Europe.'

The Lisbon European Council in March 2000 set the European Union the target of creating 20 million new jobs by 2010, primarily by using internet technology to make it the world's most dynamic knowledge-based economy. Some five million new jobs have been created since Lisbon, but significant problems have been encountered in developing the internet economy.

Internet penetration in the EU is far lower than in the United States: 38% and 58% of homes having net access respectively. Within the EU, there are considerable differences in internet availability, with 60% of people in the Netherlands having internet access, compared to only 10% of those in Greece.

Online shopping has not taken off, with only 4% of EU web users making frequent purchases over the internet. Some of consumers' reluctance to shop online is apparently due to security fears; the EU wants to establish a Cyber Security Task Force to combat internet crime.

On the day before the summit started, thousands of trade unionists met in Barcelona to demand better protection for workers and to call for Europe's traditional emphasis on welfare and regulation to be maintained. Tony Young, President of the British Trades Union Congress, said:

'We're opposed to a deregulated Europe where workers' rights are pushed to one side ... We don't want the American model, we want the European social model.'

However, rising unemployment in some Member States is apparently persuading leaders to seek both greater flexibility and mobility in the labour market, making it easier for workers to find jobs in other Member States and less expensive for companies to 'hire and fire' people.

Although not on the summit agenda, the issue of Iraq was apparently discussed informally by leaders. UK support for the United States' position on Iraq was not well received. Both France and Germany said they would not support military action against Iraq unless it was sanctioned by the United Nations (the UK argues that Iraq has broken UN Resolutions and there is therefore no need for a further UN mandate).

The Presidency Conclusions

The Presidency Conclusions are divided into three main sections:

Part 1 has four main subdivisions: 'General political and economic context', 'Maintaining the momentum behind our long-term strategy', 'Priority action' and 'Improving working methods'.

The European Council identified three broad areas for priority action: 'Active policies towards full employment: more and better jobs'; 'Connecting European Economies', and 'A competitive economy based on knowledge'.

With regard to improving working methods, leaders decided that discussions of the Union's Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and annual Employment Package should be synchronised, and that the Spring European Council will in future review economic, social and environment policies as a whole.

Part II of the Conclusions covers a range of issues, including the Convention on the Future of Europe, Euro-Mediterranean financial cooperation, the Northern Dimension, US measures on steel, Ratification of the Treaty of Nice, and external relations (amongst which feature Gibraltar, the Western Balkans, Serbia and Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Zimbabwe, and the Middle East - a Declaration of Barcelona on the Middle East is annexed to Part II).

Part III is 'Contributions to the deliberations' and consist primarily of reports of four recent Council meetings: Economic and Financial Affairs Council; Employment and Social Policy Council; Internal Market, Consumer Affairs and Tourism Council; Environment Council.

Two issues expected to be discussed at Barcelona failed to get a mention in the Conclusions: where to locate a clutch of new EU agencies (a decision which should have been taken at Laeken in December 2001), and who will succeed Wim Duisenberg as head of the European Central Bank, following his resignation.

Further information within European Sources Online:

European Sources Online: In Focus
European Council, Laeken, 14-15 December 2001
European Council, Lisbon, 22-23 March 2000
The Union's Social Policy Agenda, February 2002
European Sources Online: Financial Times
16.02.02: Blair and Berlusconi share EU purpose
25.02.02: Blair joins forces with Schröder to urge EU reforms
18.03.02: Special report: EU Barcelona summit []

Further and subsequent information on the subject of this In Focus can be found by an 'Advanced Search' in European Sources Online by inserting 'barcelona' or some other appropriate term in the keyword field.

Further information can be seen in these external links:
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European Commission
Barcelona European Council
European Commission: Press and Communication Service
European Council Barcelona
Barcelona: time to deliver on reforms for growth, jobs and sustainability
Council of the European Union
Presidency Conclusions - Barcelona
European Parliament
Address by Pat Cox, President of the European Parliament at the European Council
Spain: EU Presidency of the Council
European Council (15-16 March - Barcelona)
The Barcelona Council has made the process of economic and social reform "irreversible"

BBC News Online
14.03.02: Euro summit hopes downplayed
14.03.02: Europe lags in internet race
15.03.02: Blair attacked over right-wing EU links
15.03.02: Barcelona's reform agenda
15.03.02: EU struggles with reform task
15.03.02: Clashes break out at EU summit
16.03.02: Britain 'isolated' over Iraq
16.03.02: EU summit agrees key reforms
16.03.02: Blair praises 'solid' summit deals
17.03.02: Running battles conclude EU summit
Guardian Unlimited
15.03.02: The EU Barcelona summit
16.03.02: Blair allied with European right in summit labour talks
16.03.02: Blair woos summit amid fears of split
16.03.02: Britain isolated over Iraq war threat

Eric Davies
KnowEurope Researcher
Compiled: 16-17 March 2002

Overview of the main items on the agenda and the progress made at the Spring European Council held in Barcelona in March 2002 under the chair of the Spanish government.

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