Relations between Germany and Spain, strained in recent years, have improved markedly under the Spanish socialist government, and today President Rodriguez Zapatero receives Chancellor Shroeder in what is expected to be a very relaxed and cordial summit meeting between the two leaders.
Gerhard Schroeder arrives in Leon at midday accompanied by serveral ministers, and will be met by Zapatero and his government in the famous Hostal San Marcos, Spain’s oldest hotel and most magnificant parador.
Once they have got the usual diplomatic formalities over with, the two leaders will have a meeting, while parallel meetings are held between the foreign ministers, Miguel Angel Moratinos and Joschka Fischer; interior ministers, José Antonio Alonso and Otto Schily; defence ministers José Bono and Peter Struck; agricultural ministers, Elena Espinosa and Renate Kuenast and the justice ministers, Juan Fernando López Aguilar and Brigitte Zypriess.
At two o’clock all the meetings end and the two governments will pose for a photo. Then they will all have lunch and in the afternoon one big meeting is scheduled to be attended by all the ministers and their two leaders. Once that meeting is over, and after signing a joint declaration, Zapatero and Schroeder will then have a stroll around the city centre.
José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has concentrated much of his recent international policy efforts in getting closer to Germany and France and in improving Spain’s image and influence among European Union states. He seems to get on very well with Schroeder, although they disagree on the financial structure proposed by France and Germany for the period 2007-2013, and this is one of the issues they are expected to discuss during their meeting.
Spain is one of the European Union’s biggest recipients of EU funds. For this reason, Zapatero wants the EU budget to remain 1.24% GDP of member states and also wants to avoid having to face a drastic reduction in money received by Spain from the EU regional funds and the Cohesion Fund.
The Cohesion Fund was set up in 1993 under the Maastricht Treaty to contribute to the strengthening of the economic and social cohesion of the European Union. With a budget of more than 15 Billion ECU for the period 1993 – 1999, it aimed to help the least prosperous Member States of the European Union to be able to fully participate in Economic and Monetary Union from 1999. Currently four Member States benefit from the Cohesion Fund – Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Greece. The eligibility criterion is that GNP be 90% or less than that of the EU average and with the entry of the EU’s new ten member states, Spain is no longer eligible to receive money from this particular Fund.
Germany is in the opposite position and is the EU’s biggest contributer of funds. Last year the German government requested that the EU budget be reduced to 1% GDP of member states. So it will be interesting to see if the two leaders make any progress in their negotiations today. They are also expected to discuss other international issues, including the situation in the Middle East and Iraq.