Must Listen

Must Read

What Art Thinks


Today's Headlines

  • Sorry... Not Available
Man blowing a shofar

Administrative Area

Locally Contributed...



Special Interest

“End of An Era As Sweden Hands Over EU Presidency (news Feature)”
by Rapture Ready   
December 28th, 2009

Brussels - Fifty-two years of European Union history are set to come to an end on Friday as Sweden hands over the bloc's last full national presidency to its new full-time chairman and to Spain.

Since it was founded in 1957, the EU has been steered by a different member state every six months. But on December 1 the bloc's Lisbon Treaty came into force, creating the position of full-time president of the council of EU member states.

From January 1, Belgium's former premier, Herman Van Rompuy, is set to chair summits and steer the EU's agenda, while Spain, the next holder of the rotating presidency, is to head lower-level meetings.

'This has been an intense six months - I wish Herman Van Rompuy and the Spanish presidency luck,' Swedish premier Fredrik Reinfeldt told the German Press Agency dpa on Tuesday.

Curiously, Belgium, which provided the EU with its first ever president, also provided its first ever rotating presidency, in the first half of 1958.

EU member states created the post of full-time president in order to make the bloc's policies more coherent in the long term, and to get away from a situation in which problems in the presiding member state could stall EU decisions - as happened this March, when the Czech government fell during its term at the EU's helm.

Ironically, the Swedish presidency has been widely hailed as the most effective in years, brokering deals on issues such as climate-change funding, EU-wide financial supervision, the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty and Van Rompuy's appointment.

'The presidency has been exceptionally and extraordinarily successful - well done the Swedes,' a top diplomat from one of the EU's biggest states summed up the situation in early December.

A poll of European correspondents organized by Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet in mid-December gave the presidency in general, and Reinfeldt in particular, top marks in five out of six categories, and a 'good' mark in the sixth.

EU diplomats are now waiting to see how Van Rompuy and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will manage to cooperate over the next six months, since the Spanish government will play a key role in preparing EU meetings.

On December 18, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos laid out the presidency's priorities for the next six months, a period during which Van Rompuy is expected to feel his way into his new job.

Madrid wants to focus on reinforcing the EU's economic recovery, boosting its prestige overseas, expanding its citizens' rights and overseeing the implementation of the Lisbon treaty, Moratinos said.

The presidency is also due to launch talks on the EU's economic strategy up to 2020 and on the outline for its seven-year budget up to the same year. Diplomats expect both debates to be heated.

According to early draft calendars, Spain is expected to push for better relations with Latin American countries in general and Cuba in particular, with a summit expected in Madrid in spring.

Moratinos' speech also foreshadowed a possible row with Israel and with the EU's new foreign-policy supremo, Catherine Ashton, by calling for the foundation of a Palestinian state in 2010.

Ashton is meant to steer and coordinate the foreign policy of the EU's 27 member states. The Middle East conflict is one of the bloc's most contentious foreign-policy issues.

go back button