Spain takes over EU presidency

AP News
Posted: Jan 01, 2010 8:14 AM

Spain took over the presidency of the European Union on Friday, with the prime minister promising to work to end the continent's economic crisis.

The six-month rotating post passed from Sweden to Spain at the stroke of midnight, and the country launched its stint in the helm with a spectacular sound and light show for New Year's Eve revelers gathered at the Puerta del Sol, one of Madrid's most emblematic plazas.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Spain's main goal as EU president is "to fight for economic recovery, for recovery from the crisis, and make Europe an economy that is more and more productive, more and more innovative and more and more sustainable."

Zapatero also said that under the new Treaty of Lisbon, which went into effect Dec. 1, the 27-member European Union must work to assert itself more on the global stage as it deals with powerhouses like the United States and China.

"We have to make Europe an ever stronger factor in the international context; a Europe that defends and extends the values of peace, cooperation, and dialogue among all peoples and nations," Zapatero said in a short video posted on a Web site the government has created to launch the presidency.

One of the key goals of the Lisbon treaty is to streamline EU decision-making procedures so the bloc can act with more agility.

It also created the post of full-time president, Belgian Herman Van Rompuy, and named a new foreign policy chief, Britain's Catherine Ashton, but retained the system of rotating presidencies for handling the bloc's day-to-day affairs.

As chance would have it, the EU's efforts to resurrect the economy will now be led by the country that is perhaps the worst off of all of them.

Spain has an EU-high unemployment rate of 17.9 percent, about double the bloc's average, and while countries including France and Germany have managed to climb out of technical recession, Spain acknowledges it is lagging behind and will not see net creation of jobs until late this year.

Spain had posted nearly a decade of solid and sometimes robust growth, largely on the strength of its construction sector, until the real estate bubble collapsed over the past two years.