"The EU needs to bet on itself", said Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, adding that the right response to the economic crisis must be the first goal. The President of the Council listed four priorities for his mandate. These were building "an energy common market", to help reduce EU energy dependence, creating a "digital internal market, to boost productivity and e-commerce, making industry more sustainable (including the electric car project) to combat climate change and investing in research and education, to enable Europe to become "a leading player".
Other priorities listed by Mr Zapatero included implementing new instruments under the Lisbon Treaty to make "citizens feel closer to EU institutions", such as the new citizens’ right of initiative to propose legislation, and the need to fight domestic violence in Europe with a new legal measures to protect women and victims of gender violence. On the Haiti earthquake tragedy, he said "we are going to show what we can do as Europeans (…) in those parts of the world which are suffering the most (…). We are going to deliver a strong response to their needs for international aid".
Commission President José Manuel Barroso praised Spain’s "long tradition of commitment to Europe" and advocated a "fundamental reworking of the EU economy" to achieve a "competitive, innovative and socially inclusive market economy". On Haiti, Mr Barroso stressed his "complete solidarity and desire to help the victims". The EU and its Member States have already committed €222 million to humanitarian aid and the Commission could mobilise a further €200 million in the long term to assist reconstruction, he said.
Political group speakers
Joseph Daul (EPP, FR) welcomed Mr Zapatero’s proposal for a new European economic governance structure, but added that his group could not agree with his apparent readiness to increase public deficits. "We need to support small and medium enterprises instead" and "I am not too sure whether you and your political family have realized whether your proposals are realistic", he added Mr Zapatero replied that "I strongly support the Stability Pact and promotion of fiscal balance". He promised that by 2013, Spain would get back on the 3% track by reducing its public deficit.. Mr Daul also took the opportunity to ask Mr Zapatero to engage in a spontaneous questions and answers session with MEPs during his six-month presidency.
Martin Schulz (S&D, DE) congratulated Mr Zapatero on Spain’s "promising" agenda. "Mr Zapatero has set out an ambitious programme. You have named the four essential priorities", he said, adding that Mr Zapatero’s proposed model of economic governance was the "right approach", which would "take Europe into a new phase". Europe’s challenges "cannot be solved by one summit after another. We need Member States to actually implement the proposals made", he stressed, calling for more control and supervision of the financial industry.
Also on economic governance, Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BE) stressed that "the fundamental question is whether the Council and the Member States are willing to change the failed method of "open co-ordination", which, he said, had simply led to the publication of ever more documents. On climate change, Mr Verhostadt advocated "a different strategy, post-Copenhagen.. Our approach there failed. We must have a plan based on three elements: A Mr or Mrs Climate Change, a trilateral agreement with the US and China, and a shared common interest with the US such as the emissions trading scheme".
In reply, Mr Zapatero stressed the need to have in place a sanctions system if the EU really means to implement a new economic development strategy. "Everything we’ve done together works: Euro, Stability Pact, Internal Market", he said.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Greens/EFA, FR) asked Mr Zapatero to take up Commissioner Michel Barnier’s idea of a Europe Aid civil protection force. With such a force, "Europeans would have been better deployed in Haïti", he added.. On the economic situation, Cohn-Bendit warned that economic growth can also be very destructive for climate: "if we don’t discuss the kind of growth we want at EU level, we will make the same mistakes", he said. He recommended "energy efficiency and saving" to reduce energy dependency. He urged the EU to increase its energy savings goal to 30% forthwith and set up a major European Tram project to create jobs and promote green mobility. "Yes, electric cars should only be one more element of a sustainable growth based on the green economy", Mr Zapatero agreed.
Timothy Kirkhope (ECR, UK) praised Spain’s contribution to the EU. But "establishing compulsory economic policies with sanctions", instead of co-ordinating them, "is not relevant to the current situation", he argued. Mr Zapatero replied that the intention was not to increase control over Member States but rather "to have more competitiveness". He explained that 27 separate national systems would not work on the world stage, and attempts to make them do so risked undermining the EU’s global competitiveness.
Mr Kirkhope also urged Mr Zapatero to devote more energy to fighting climate change and "the illegitimate and brutal government of Iran".
Willy Meyer (GUE/NGL, ES) said "your programme does not sort out the fundamental problems of the economy. More intervention is needed", especially in the financial sector. "Everything you offer is old-hat. You’re basically dismantling the European social model", he said. Mr Meyer objected to Mr Zapatera’s plan to hold a summit with Morocco under the Spanish presidency because Morocco does not recognise Western Sahara’s right to self-determination. He also said that Israel should respect the human rights provisions of the Association agreement. In his replies, Mr Zapatera reiterated his intention to hold the meeting with Morocco.
Marta Andreasen (EFD, UK) raised the complaints of British citizens who had lost their homes in Spain due to alleged abuses of planning regulations. "Three reports have been approved by Parliament but no specific action has been taken", she said.