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Spain assumes EU Presidency

Fri 1st Jan 2010

Today Spain took the reins of the rotating presidency of the European Union, the first under a new leadership structure for the Union which includes a permenant president and a head of foreign policy.

Theses new positions will be assumed by Belgium's Herman Van Rompuy and Britain's Catherine Ashton, were created under the Lisbon Treaty which came into effect on December 1, during the final weeks of Sweden's six-month term as the President of the EU.

The treaty aims to streamline decision-making within the EU but critics argue that the new system is just as complicated as the previous one, with too much scope for overlapping roles.

Spain has already stated that its priorities as president of the EU is to ensure a smooth implementation of the treaty and tackling the continent's economic problems.

In a message posted on the official web site of the Spanish presidency of the EU, Zapatero said the main challenge will be to provide Europe with an economy that is "more productive, innovative and more sustainable" adding that he remains "convinced" that the Lisbon Treaty will make Europe "more efficient and dynamic" and contribute to "make Europeans more united".

One of the aims of the EU's new leadership structure is to give Europe a greater voice on the world stage in talks with major powers like China and the United States.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, Rompuy, Ashton and Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, are intended to be the EU's public face, but Spain will still chair important EU ministerial meetings on the economy, the environment and energy during the presidency as well as host several summits, including one between the EU and the USA in May which President Barack Obama is expected to attend.

Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, said: "The coming six months are extremely important for the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. The Spanish presidency will shape the new model of co-operation between EU institutions and member states under the Lisbon Treaty."

During the current term of the Spanish presidency the EU needs to agree on a replacement for the EU's long-term growth strategy known as the Lisbon Agenda which was supposed to make it the world's most competitive economy by 2010.

A new 10-year growth strategy - dubbed the "2020 strategy" - is likely to be adopted in March during a summit of EU leaders.

The unemployment rate in the EU as a whole increased to 9.3 % percent in October, representing 22.5 million people, from 7.3 % during the same time last year, according to EU statistic agency Eurostat.

The ate of unemployment in individual member states varies from lows of 3.7% in the Netherlands and 4.7% in Austria to highs of 20.9% in Latvia and 19.3% percent in Spain.

As fireworks greeted the New Year, Spain raised the level of its anti-terrorist alert, fearing a spectacular attack by armed Basque group ETA during its EU presidency.

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