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Can Spain Show European Leadership?

In an era of geopolitical rebalancing, Europe needs a more cohesive stance in international forums, together with stronger strategic partnerships, to enhance its global influence. Spain can contribute to these goals when it assumes the presidency of the Council of the EU next month – if domestic politics do not get in the way.

MADRID – Just hours after Spain’s ruling Socialist Party suffered significant setbacks in regional and local elections, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that the parliamentary election, scheduled for the end of the year, will be held early – on July 23. With Spain set to assume the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on July 1, the timing is far from ideal.

A country holding the Council of the EU presidency has six months to chair meetings, coordinate policy work, and ensure continuity – in short, to advance the bloc’s agenda. But the rotation of the presidency is set years in advance, and intervening events emerge. Consequently, the presidency has been occupied by lame duck governments, and some – for example, French President Emmanuel Macron – use it as part of a domestic election campaign. But what is extraordinary is to call snap elections a month before assuming the helm of the Council.

It will not be smooth sailing after Spain’s turn either. Hungary is slated to take over in the second half of 2024, but the European Parliament is already questioning the country’s ability to “fulfill this task credibly” in view of its “lack of compliance with EU law and values.” This is the latest manifestation of a deepening divide between the EU’s liberal democracies and its illiberal democracies, particularly Hungary and Poland (which is scheduled to take over the Council of the EU presidency in 2025).

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