Ministers are holding a series of meetings in parliamentary committees to present the priorities of the Spanish Presidency of the Council.
Spain holds the Presidency of the Council until December 2023 included.
Committee on Culture and Education
On 7 September, acting Minister for Education and Vocational Training Pilar Alegría said the presidency will focus on educational responses to support Ukraine, ambitious implementation of the European Education area, promoting STEM professions among women and the contribution of education to European values.
Joan Subirats, acting Minister for Universities, told MEPs that the priorities are the “European Universities” initiative, sexist violence and sexual harassment in higher education, as well as improving access to education for vulnerable groups. Miquel Iceta, acting Minister of Culture and Sport, mentioned the sustainable management of cultural heritage, improving living conditions for artists and cultural workers, the videogames sector and finding an agreement on the European Media Freedom Act by December 2023.
MEPs stressed the importance of mutual recognition of qualifications also in vocational training, such as the skills acquired in volunteering, while others insisted on reversing the Commission’s proposed cuts to the 2024 Erasmus+, Creative Europe and European Solidarity Corps programmes. They called for EU minority languages to be included in EU education and culture programmes.
Committee on Employment and Social Affairs
On 7 September, MEPs asked José Luis Escrivá, acting Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration to make progress on the coordination of social security systems, currently stuck in the Council. MEPs also quizzed the minister on the presidency’s plans on migration, particularly on migrants’ social and employment rights.
Yolanda Diaz, acting Spanish Vice-President and Minister for Work and Social Economy, outlined three priorities: social dialogue, decent work, and social economy. MEPs demanded progress on the Platform Workers’ Directive, currently being negotiated. They also asked about the presidency's plans on quality traineeships as well as on mental health at work.
Internal Market and Consumer Protection
On 18 September, Secretary of State for European Affairs, Pascual Navarro, outlined as priorities reindustrialisation, greater social and economic justice and adapting to the green transition. On the 30th anniversary of the Single Market, Mr Navarro stressed the need to make the market stronger, more robust and competitive - with EU citizens at its core.
The Secretary General for Consumer Affairs and Gambling, Rafael Escudero Alday, said that that the Spanish Presidency will focus on strengthening the rights of the most vulnerable consumers and promoting the rights of consumers in the green and digital transitions. The Presidency plans to conclude negotiations the Single Market Emergency Instrument (SMEI), Ecodesign, Empowering consumers for the green transition, the prohibition of products made with forced labour, construction products and the regulation of short-term rentals, Navarro and Escudero explained.
MEPs asked about the progress on other important files ahead of the 2024 EU elections, namely on the transparency of political advertising, the Artificial Intelligence Act, right to repair and the reform of the energy market. The implementation of the Digital Services Act, the Toy Safety regulation and Green claims were also discussed.
Security and Defence
On 18 September, Defence Minister Margarita Robles said the Presidency will work on strengthening the EU’s capacity to protect its citizens and its values, following up on the Strategic Compass. While stressing the need of complementarity with NATO, she called for more balance in the division of burden in the alliance. The minister stressed that Europe has to stand united in support of Ukraine and that the situation in Sahel needs to be addressed with a unified response.
MEPs inquired about the implementation of the Strategic Compass and how to support the EU’s rapid reaction capacity. They also expressed concern about the situation in Africa, particularly Sahel region, suggesting a rethink of the EU’s strategy towards its African partners. They also asked if there are ways “to pressure” reluctant member states to provide supplies to Ukraine.
Agriculture and Rural Development
The coordination of EU and member states’ actions in relation to the war in Ukraine will be a priority, according to Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Luis Planas on 19 September. Ukraine should be supported by strengthening the EU Solidarity Lanes and helping with their export, he said. In relation to trade of agricultural products with third countries, the Presidency will defend the so-called “mirror clauses” to ensure fair treatment for EU farmers.
In their reactions, MEPs called for more financial resources to tackle the consequences of the Russian war in Ukraine. A number of MEPs called for clear criteria on how the CAP crisis reserve should be allocated, while others called for more actions in implementing the Farm to Fork Strategy. MEPs also asked whether the Presidency supports controlling the EU wolf population using legislation.
Transport and Tourism
On 19 September, Raquel Sánchez, acting Minister for Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda, stressed that the Presidency will focus on paving the way for green and digital mobility, advancing work on the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) and the Single European Sky (SES), as well as on the Maritime safety and Road safety packages. Héctor Gómez, acting Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, promised MEPs to pay special attention to ensuring the digitalisation, sustainability and accessibility of tourism and to advance work on new EU rules on exchange of data on short-term rentals.
MEPs welcomed the focus on TEN-T and SES and asked for all files in the new Road and Maritime safety packages to be treated equally. Some MEPs asked about measures to address the labour shortage in the tourism sector, while others recalled Parliament’s demand to set up an EU tourism agency.
On 19 September, Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism Héctor Gómez said they will prioritise enhancing Europe's access to key raw materials, increasing the diversification of supply chains, and supporting trade openness. The Presidency also aims to sign the free trade agreement with Chile, finalise the one with Mexico and to conclude talks on the additional instrument (aimed at maintaining environmental and labour standards) to pave the way for a deal with Mercosur countries.
MEPs quizzed the minister on how to move forward with the trade agreements with the Mercosur countries, Mexico and Chile. Some MEPs urged the Presidency to push harder for the Mercosur agreement, and to make sure the Parliament’s position not to link readmission to trade issues is respected during the negotiations on the new generalised scheme of preferences (GSP).
Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
On 19 September, Minister for Equality Irene Montero said that the Presidency is working to reach an agreement on the directive to combat violence against women and is ready to start negotiations on the anti-trafficking directive and on standards for equality bodies. On equal treatment, the Presidency will continue to explore how to overcome the deadlock in Council. The Presidency will also focus on LGBTIQ rights, on a care strategy and on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
In a heated debate, MEPs asked what the Presidency’s strategy was on the directive to combat violence against women, particularly on including rape in the rules. Some questioned how the Presidency would handle this file, given the government’s handling of Spain’s national law on sexual consent. In addition, they quizzed the Minister on LGBTIQ rights, on including the right to abortion in the EU treaties, and women and safety in sports.
On 20 September, María Jesús Montero, Minister of Finance, told MEPs that the Presidency will focus on the cohesion policy 2.0, which aims to take regional difference better into account, including those of the EU’s outermost regions. The policy will introduce a greater degree of flexibility and improved management, as well as serving as a tool for resilience and more effective crisis management. She also mentioned cohesion policy role in climate change and reindustrialisation.
MEPs welcomed the ambitious programme and quizzed the minister on plans to improve the use of regional funds in the current and future programming period, on the planned initiatives in the Mediterranean, and in the automotive industry regions. They also called for more cooperation with Ukraine, especially for the country’s future reconstruction.
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
Acting Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, said, on 20 September, that the EU’s migration policy must balance its humanitarian obligations and the protection of its borders. He noted that opening legal and safe migration pathways to the EU would help in this and in the fight against human traffickers. Minister Escrivá also said the Presidency will conclude negotiations on the single permit directive, on prolonging temporary protection to Ukrainian refugees, and make progress on discussions on the long-term residency rights directive.
MEPs questioned the Presidency about Spanish involvement in a US initiative to establish migrants’ processing centres in Central America and Colombia and about the EU migration deal with Tunisia. Others called on the Presidency to push its legal migration agenda in the Council, while some asked it to prioritise the combat against people traffickers.
On 9 October, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, Minister of the Interior, said the Presidency is fully committed to reaching an agreement with Parliament on the migration and asylum pact, one which balances solidarity and responsibility. Other Presidency priorities include Bulgaria's and Romania's full participation in Schengen and cooperation with third countries on migration and development. The Presidency is also working on reaching a position on combatting Child Sexual Abuse Online (CSAM).
MEPs stressed the legal complexities of CSAM and the need to reach a deal on it. On migration and asylum, MEPs stressed the need to have enough negotiating room in the respective mandates of the two institutions to be able to reach an agreement on the meaning of meaningful solidarity. Some MEPs were critical of the arrangements with Tunisia due to human rights concerns. Others called for the Presidency to prioritise legal migration routes, such as resettlement and work permits.
Acting Minister of Justice Pilar Llop said on 25 October that legislation on violence against women and on combating human trafficking are priorities. The Presidency also intends to reach an agreement on asset recovery and confiscation proposals and on criminalising the violations of EU sanctions. Work on the anti-corruption directive and on improving the enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is still at an early stage, said Llop. Finally, she hopes to find an agreement on anti-SLAPP by the end of the year.
Some MEPs highlighted the Presidency’s efforts to protect women and girls, notably through the anti-trafficking directive. Others stressed the importance of fighting corruption and strengthening the rule of law, including the independence of judges. On violence against women, they urged the Council to agree to strong rules with a definition of rape based on a lack of consent.
Economic and Monetary Affairs
ECOFIN President, First Vice-President of the Government and Minister for the Economy and Digital Transformation Nadia Calviño said, on 20 September, that the Presidency will prioritise work on the capital markets union and the banking union to mobilise public and private investment in support of the EU’s digital and green transitions. Another priority will be the anti-money laundering package and tackling tax fraud and tax evasion. The Presidency wants to finalise work on the economic governance package by October 2023.
MEPs asked about the revision of bank crisis management and deposit insurance, on which there is disagreement in the Council, and on the review of the economic governance rules, especially on the need that the new rules allow room for continuing investments. MEPs quizzed Minister Calviño about the revision of fiscal rules and how to ensure that the recovery funds benefit EU citizens and companies.
Industry, Research and Energy
On 20 September, Nadia Calviño, First Vice-President of the Spanish government and Minister of Economy, Digital Transformation and Telecommunications, stated that Europe is compelled to redefine its role, and that digitisation is a lever for this transformation. She advocated for an agreement as soon as possible on cyber-resilience legislation, the e-ID directive and the entire "cyber-package", and to initiate negotiations on the Gigabit Infrastructure Act.
Minister of Science and Innovation Diana Morant-Ripoll urged for increased cooperation with third countries under the Horizon Europe programme, and to advance negotiations within the Council on the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA). She also announced that the Presidency will analyse the impact of the Recovery fund on research policies. On space policy, she highlighted the importance of programmes like Copernicus and argued for their security to be bolstered.
The Minister of Industry, Trade, and Tourism, Héctor Gómez, stated that the issue of the European industry’s transition will be crucial in the coming semester, with the need to establish a decarbonised economy in the context of increased international competition. He pointed out that Europe's small and medium-sized Businesses (SMEs) will have to be saved and announced that the Presidency will work to establish a common position on the Net Zero Industry Act.
Contributing to food security while meeting sustainability criteria is the first of three priorities announced, on 20 September, by Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Luis Planas. The other two are the challenge of decarbonisation and agreeing on the multiannual TACs (Total Available Catches) for those species where scientific data are needed to do so, while also improving the overall decision-making process on this issue.
MEPs highlighted the need to start the debate on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and the renewal of the fishing fleet for the outermost regions. They also questioned the Presidency’s line of action on the fisheries agreement with Morocco. Negotiations with the UK, Norway and Senegal were also mentioned. Almost all MEPs also stressed the lack of commitment from the current Commission and called for a full time commissioner for the fisheries sector.
Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
On 23 October, José Manuel Miñones, Minister for Health, stressed his commitment to the European Health Union and mentioned three priorities: prevention and health promotion, strengthening the capacity of health systems and developing new strategies for prevalent diseases.
MEPs mentioned addressing the shortage of medicine as an urgent problem. Several questions touched on rare diseases, the lack of health care workers, mental health, digital health, relocation of the pharma industry and transplants remaining voluntary.
Teresa Ribera, Minister for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge mentioned, on 24 October, the importance of multilateralism in the green transition and the strong commitment to the law on nature restoration. She promised to get as far as possible on files regarding soil, packaging and packaging waste, food and textile waste, industrial emissions and air quality.
MEPs raised the issue of reciprocity clauses in international trade deals to protect the European industry with increasing climate and environmental goals. They also requested a timeframe for the microplastics pollution file and asked questions on the upcoming Global Stocktake at COP28.
On 24 October, Pilar Cancela, Spanish State Secretary for International Cooperation, highlighted three priorities: support for the social, ecological, and digital transitions; strengthening and consolidating the EU’s Team Europe approach to external action; and gender equality, including a focus on the care economy and gender-based violence. She also highlighted the Russian war in Ukraine, the Israel-Palestine crisis, and the reform of global development financing as issues the Presidency will focus on.
MEPs raised questions about the Presidency’s approach to the mid-term review of the EU’s long-term budget, and to innovative development and humanitarian investment. They discussed the situation in Gaza and the humanitarian aid reviews and possible suspensions, as well as questions on immigration and the imminent signing of the Post-Cotonou Agreement.
Russian aggression in Ukraine remains Europe’s biggest challenge, said José Manuel Albares, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, on 24 October. Among the priorities he stressed, are also enlargement, Eastern Europe, Western Balkans, the attack of Hamas in Israel and the situation in Gaza, as well as the strategic importance of Latin America and the Caribbean. Regarding the situation in Israel, Europe has to stay faithful to its principles and to international law, he said, proposing to organise an international peace conference.
Other priorities are strengthening multilateralism and transatlantic relations as well as continuing the dialogue with Latin America and Caribbean countries. The minister also stressed that the situation in Sahel is particularly worrying for Europe’s stability due to Russia’s presence and the anti-western narrative in the region.