This work, published during the fifth Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, looks beyond the six-month period of the Spanish presidency itself to analyse from a broad perspective Spain’s participation in the process of European integration, a central pillar of its foreign affairs activity and indeed of the country’s national project.

This policy paper has three purposes. It starts with a study of the historical, constitutional and political bases that frame the design, drafting and coordination of Spain’s European policy. The core of the paper consists of an analysis of how European policy is developed, an activity involving the different key institutional actors of the Spanish political system (the prime minister, the general state administration, the Spanish Parliament and the Autonomous Communities), with the coordinating role of the Secretary of State for the European Union (SEUE) and Spain’s Permanent Representation to the European Union (REPER). In the final section, the policy paper presents the main priorities that guide –or should guide– Spanish action in order to achieve the desired substantive outcomes in each major geographical or public policy area where EU membership is relevant.

One of the main threads running through the text is the Europeanism that has characterized Spain’s participation in the European project, one that has been shared by political parties, government elites and Spanish society as a whole. From 1986 to the present day, the defence of the national position has been combined with a favourable orientation towards further integration, although this has not prevented conflicts arising on many occasions. This paper does not restrict itself to a merely descriptive approach, but also offers explanation –analysing the factors that determine reality– and prescriptions: identifying weaknesses and making recommendations for improvement.

At the same time, although it starts from a Spanish perspective, it keeps the European framework in and will be of interest to any reader concerned with the functioning of the EU and its interrelation with the Member States. Throughout the paper, there are comparative references to other cases, and general aspects of the European institutional and decision-making framework are examined. Attention is also paid to Spain’s alliances with its partners and the extent to which the conduct of nationals of the Member States is important for a better understanding of the inner workings of the European Commission and the European Parliament.

The publication is organised into three different sections. The first part the foundations of the relationship between Spain and the EU since Spain’s accession almost 40 years ago. In chapter 1, Charles Powell briefly explores the historical meaning of this relationship and its evolution, in order to identify its main characteristics and highlight the most conspicuous continuities and ruptures that have occurred during this time. Chapter 2, authored by Raquel García Llorente, analyses the origin of the Europeanism that has characterized the European policy of Spain’s political parties, as well as of governments of different ideological persuasions. In chapter 3, José Pablo Martínez studies the favourable nature of Spanish public opinion towards the integration process, although these attitudes have fluctuated and suffer from a lack of knowledge about the EU. Chapter 4, by Ignacio Molina, brings the first section to a close and considers the institutional framework of Spain’s membership of the EU, paying attention both to the constitutional clause which makes this possible (Article 93) and to one of the defining features of the Spanish state model: the territorial organization into Autonomous Communities.

The second section of the paper analyses different dimensions of the development and coordination of Spain’s European policy, and is written by Raquel García Llorente and Ignacio Molina. Its first chapter examines Spain’s participation in the European Council through the prime minister, whether acting individually in defence of a national position or through alliances with other Member States, taking into account the wide margin of action that the figure of the prime minister has in the Spanish political system. The second and third chapters of this section analyse the coordination of European affairs within the government and the state administration, distinguishing between two levels: domestically (where the SEUE plays the leading role) and in Brussels (which revolves around the REPER). The fourth chapter addresses whether the presence of Spaniards in European institutions forms part of an ecosystem of national influence. This second section of the policy papercloses with a final chapter on the role of the Spanish parliament, which is one of the parliaments of Member States with the least involvement in national position-setting.

The third and final section addresses the substantive priorities of Spain’s European policy from the perspective of the Elcano Royal Institute’s ten research axes and has been prepared by the entire research team. This follows the order in which these axes are organised within the Institute: (i) globalization, development and governance; (ii) challenges to peace and international security; (iii) democracy, rights and citizenship; (iv) climate and energy transition; (v) economic transformations and technology; (vi) the future of Europe; (vii) Latin America, a global actor; (viii) the rise of China, the USA and the new world order; (ix) challenges and opportunities in the neighbourhood; and (x) influence and image of Spain          .

Although the two coordinators of the work are responsible for its limitations and errors, it is a collective effort, which has benefited from contributions from the entire research team at the Elcano Royal Institute. It has also benefited from the information provided in various interviews with stakeholders and has received the support of the ‘Hablamos de Europa’ programme of the Secretary of State for the European Union.

Raquel García Llorente and Ignacio Molina

Image: Detail of the inauguration of the decoration of the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU (4/7/2023). Photo: European Council / ©European Union.