MADRID -- Spain's six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, which began on Jan. 1, 2010, is off to a bumpy start. With the Lisbon Treaty now in effect, the traditional role of the EU rotating presidency has been downgraded. Responsibility for many issues which were once the domain of the rotating presidency now falls to the newly named permanent EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, and EU foreign minister, Catherine Ashton -- who together are supposed to comprise the new "public face" of the EU.
Nevertheless, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has announced a series of ambitious initiatives involving EU economic and foreign policy, many of which have been met with skepticism, if not ridicule, by Spain's EU partners. In short, during a six-month period that will test how well the EU's new institutional architecture works in practice, Spain's role at the helm of the union is unclear and its leadership has been seriously questioned.
Zapatero announced several priorities for Spain's EU presidency, the most ambitious of which involves drawing up a new 10-year plan, called the 2020 Economic Strategy, to boost growth and competiveness within the EU. The initiative, which the Spanish government plans to launch at an EU summit in Brussels on Feb. 11, is meant to be a follow-up to the failed Lisbon Agenda, a 10-year economic plan drafted in 2000 that attempted to make the EU "the most competitive economy in the world and achieving full employment by 2010."