State of the Union: Spanish EU presidency kicks off, as allies prep for NATO summit

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Madrid on July 3, 2023.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Madrid on July 3, 2023. Copyright Bernat Armangue/AP Photo.
By Stefan Grobe
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The annual meeting of allied leaders will take place in Vilnius next week.

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For the European Union, this week was the first under Spanish leadership as the country took over the presidency of the Council of the EU from Sweden.

The last time this happened was in 2010 under the premiership of José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The Council presidency holds no formal power, but it sets the agenda and directs debates with the objective of assuring a smooth governing process.

To kick things off, the EU Commission visited the Spanish government this week to review the plans for Madrid’s six-month presidency and all the ingredients for a digestible meal.

In the words of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, it was all about getting ready for the future.

"Let's look forward for years and try to imagine what Europe will look like. Can we imagine the European Union will be without Ukraine, without Moldova, without the Western Balkans?" von der Leyen said.

"And those parts of Europe are under the influence of Russia or China? Impossible. So, the direction of travel is clear. And therefore, now we have to start to think about how."

She optimistically referred to possible EU membership for Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkans, depicting it as a foregone conclusion.

The reality is quite different, however. Serbia and Kosovo seem to do everything these days not to advance their case in Brussels, Moldova’s economy appear lightyears away from competing in the single market, and Ukraine is at war.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez reiterated the EU's support though, keeping Ukraine’s hopes alive.

"Under our presidency, we will continue to defend Ukraine in all areas, including the political, financial, military and humanitarian spheres, and we will continue to accompany Ukraine on its path to accession, observing the steps that the European Commission will take in its autumn report," he said.

NATO summit incoming

More important for Ukraine right now is next week’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The meeting comes as the war in Ukraine enters a critical phase amid Kyiv’s counteroffensive and growing instability in Moscow.

At the last summit in Madrid, the western alliance designated Russia as a direct threat and set out a new strategy of forward defense to deter Russian aggression.

A process that Vilnius is supposed to build on and develop further.

"The allies are going to do everything that they can that's politically possible to reassure Ukraine about this," Ian Lesser, vice president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States told Euronews.

"But I would be very surprised if they go very much beyond the standard mantra of the open door, and we anticipate that at some point Ukraine will become a member, etc., etc. But there's a lot to be done to accelerate that process. 

"And I think the allies are going to do their best to make sure that's the message that comes out of the summit.

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