HCIAS Blogcast: The European Union at the Crossroads with José Luis García Delgado and Rodolfo Gutiérrez Palacios
Welcome back to the HCIAS Blogcast! This is a series of posts on the HCIAS blog, we summarize some of the key points from our most recent podcast episode. This week, we report on a spirited discussion of the challenges facing the European Union during Spain’s presidency of the Council of the European Union between José Luis García Delgado, professor of Economics and director of the Observatorio Nebrija del Español at Universidad Nebrija, and Rodolfo Gutiérrez Palacios, professor of Sociology at the Universidad de Oviedo, hosted by Héctor Álvarez Mella, the HCIAS publications editor.
The podcast begins with Dr. Gutiérrez Palacios giving a brief overview of how the Council of the European Union functions within the EU’s governing bureaucracy. Although without direct executive or legislative powers, it nevertheless serves as an institution which integrates the EU’s various member states. The President of the European Council plays an important role in the day-to-day running of the EU, as well as helping to shape how its agenda is implemented in policy decisions.
Dr. García Delgado explains how Spain’s presidency happens to coincide with a series of complex and interlocking issues which the EU must navigate, including the war in Ukraine and its implications for the economic and social changes that the EU has begun making in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. Although the EU is no longer facing an ‘existential crisis’ (as then President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker remarked in 2016), it does find itself at a crossroads. The European Union is in the process of deciding what role it wants to play geopolitically in an increasingly polarized world.
Facing this crossroads, Dr. Gutiérrez Palacios continues, Spain has prioritized several areas from the EU’s strategic agenda that it wishes to place special emphasis on: re-industrialization following the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing energy crisis; the ecological transition the EU is undergoing, and its social implications; issues related to labor and the establishment of minimum standards for business across Europe; and reinforcing the unity of the European Union. On this last point, the challenges presented by the war in Ukraine and the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU can be seen as providing a push toward further and more substantial integration for member states of the EU.
Dr. García Delgado adds that the issue of migration is also prominent in Spain’s agenda for its Presidency of the Council of the European Union, as it hopes to make progress toward a common European asylum and migration policy. Although from a demographic perspective the EU is economically dependent on migration from outside of Europe to supply its labor force, the issue remains politically controversial, which makes reaching an agreement between all the different member states difficult.Migration has often had a polarizing effect in European countries, a problem which populist anti-immigration politicians have taken advantage of and, by doing so, exacerbated. For this reason, it is important to maintain a pragmatic and open-minded when tackling the issue. Both guests agree that Spain can play an important role in this area, in part due to its significant experience with both migration per se, in particular from Latin America and North Africa, as well as the successful integration of many migrants into Spanish society.
At this point the discussion turns toward the significance which the Spanish presidency of the Council of the European Union has for relations with Latin America. Although the EU / Latin America summit held in Brussels in July, the first since 2015, is a promising start, it remains to be seen what substantial progress will come out of it. Although discussions between the EU and Latin America have, up to this point, focussed principally on commercial agreements, it is possible that this could be a route to establishing more significant linkages in the future.
Dr. García Delgado discusses the increasing presence of other geopolitical actors, especially China, in the region. China has recently made efforts at expanding its commercial and diplomatic role in Latin America, driven by a need for primary materials, including rare earth metals. In part this expansion is facilitated by failings on the part of European businesses. This presents a risk to Europe because, as one of the most economically open regions in the world, it is likely to lose out in an increasingly bi-polar world.
The final point in the conversation is speculation about the potential for a regional integration instiution, similar to the EU, in Latin America. Although both guests agree the idea is interesting, there are some problems which have hampered previous efforts in this direction. Dr. Gutiérrez Palacios notes the obstacles caused by a lack of political stability, and the abscence of region wide leadership. Dr. García Delgado hopes that here the European Union could serve as a positive influence in terms of the quality of institutions and its democratic values.
This HCIAS Blogcast has been just a short recap of a wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion. If you would like to learn more about our guest and her work, you can listen to the whole episode here.