Europe and Latin America will probably be back at the center of Spanish foreign policy. The new government might also realize that Latin America in particular deserves stronger attention. It might find that with a few million Latin Americans living and working in Spain, a heavy presence of Spanish firms in the region, strong historical and cultural ties and growing trade opportunities in an emerging area, there are good reasons for paying more attention.
Following the landslide victory of the conservatives in the last Spanish elections, its leader, Mariano Rajoy, has just appointed his new government. The most salient feature is that it is made up of experienced and highly qualified professionals. If it were not for the 40-year old Vice-president, María Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría Antón, the average age of the cabinet would be very high. But, putting aside the personal characteristics of members of the new cabinet, one can sense a few changes in Spanish policy, mainly in economic and foreign policy. First of all, lowering the public deficit is going to be the main concern. The new government is going to cut public spending no matter what. From an international point of view, which is the main focus of this article, there is going to be a radical change in foreign policy. Spanish foreign policy is going to become more pragmatic, more realistic, and it is going to leave aside those shinning but unrealistic initiatives of Zapatero’s era. Europe and Latin America will probably be back at the center of Spanish foreign policy.
Domestic mass media attention is not going to be the main force driving the new Spanish foreign policy. International camera flashes may start forgetting decisions like the sudden pulling of the Spanish troops out of Iraq. The new government is going to wipe off all Zapatero’s main policy initiatives such as, the “alliance of civilizations”. This was a wishful thinking initiative aimed at fighting Islamic terrorism through dialogue, aid to development and institutional building, but which was accorded very little resources and effort. The main partners in this initiative were the United Nations and Turkey. The United Nations very slowly and subtly reduced its participation and Turkey remained as the only real collaborator.
Other foreign policy lines were the continued effort to get Spain into the G20 club, and the abrupt changes in the Spanish-USA relations. After an initial (some might say childish), Chavez-like, attempt to embarrass G.W. Bush at every occasion that Zapatero had, he tried to strengthen relations with the United States in quite a superficial way. It had appeared that getting a photograph of Zapatero with the US bright star, President Obama, was the main policy target. Beside this, foreign policy was quite weak during Zapatero’s era. Below the surface, the lack of language skills of the Spanish President as well as the main members of his cabinet, coupled with the appointment of inexperienced officials to key posts, which was no doubt aimed to reward members of the socialist party, made foreign policy fade away into the background real fast.
Rajoy obviously wants to change this situation. The clear indication of that is the appointment of a minister with a strong international background. One could deduce from this appointment that the new government wants to strengthen ties both with Latin America and with Europe, two traditional strong points of Spanish foreign policy. To perhaps state the obvious, one might argue that Zapatero’s weight in Europe had become almost negligible partly because he was the only socialist (social-democrat) leader in a Europe where conservatives have gradually gained the clear majority. Thus, the move to the right in Spain was really not unexpected. Yet, that may change soon, leaving Rajoy in a similar situation that Zapatero had found himself in. One would of course like to believe that Rajoy and his ministers will just make some personal efforts to have continuous and warm relations with their European counterparts.
In Latin America the situation was almost the opposite since Zapatero was seen by many Latin American leaders as too imperialist, and too close to the conservatives. Attempts by Cristina Fernández de Kitchner in Argentina, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and some other leaders in Ecuador or Bolivia to nationalize the local branches of some Spanish multinational oil and banking companies were successfully managed but, after that, nothing was done to cure the blessings. Brazil, an emerging economy, was not given proper attention and some failed attempts, vetoed by the USA, to sell military equipment in the area embarrassed Spain. These failed attempts left a feeling in Latin America that Spain was not a reliable partner as it was not in a position to defend its own views on many issues.
Latin America deserves stronger attention from the new government. A few million Latin Americans living and working in Spain, a heavy presence of Spanish firms in the region, strong historical and cultural ties and growing trade opportunities in an emerging area are worth it.
The author of this article, José A Poncela, is a member of the Editorial Board of Read-Online.Org. He was a former General Director of Budgets, Economic Planning and European Funds at the Government of Castilla-La Mancha. He is a researcher at CEET and a lecturer of Macroeconomics at the University Carlos III. (Contact: Jose-Antonio.Poncela@Read-Online.org )
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the editorial position of Read-Online.Org
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