Spain wants to remain open to the world

The Spanish External Action Strategy 2021-2024 was released on January 26. In a first article (Boulevard Exterior, 16 May), Michel Ferret, who was Deputy Director of Agricole FranceAgriMer’s office where he was responsible for European and international issues, analyzed the part of this document that pertains to Spain’s relations with the European Union. . In a second article, he examines the part devoted to politics outside Europe of Spain’s increasingly openness to the world. Among the priority issues are relations with the United Kingdom and North Africa, but also with the United States and Spanish-speaking America, “one of the main pillars” of the diplomacy of the Pedro Sanchez government.

The Rock of Gibraltar, 2013

The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs included in its press release the guidelines that should govern the work of national diplomacy, namely:

  • « More of Europe With a more integrated and independent Europe, it plays a leading role in the world. This formulation in a vacuum reflects the concern explicitly expressed in the Action Plan text on leaving the EU with regard to the United States and China as well as about his ability to lead.
  • « Better versatility Spain sees itself as a ‘facilitator for improving global governance and managing interdependence’.
  • « Binary selective strategyClearly identifying the priorities of the target countries.
  • « Solidarity commitment With a new vision of cooperation and development assistance, a dear concern to Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya.

These directions are complemented by a transversal approach focusing on the one hand on promoting human rights, democracy, feminism and diversity, and on the other on defending the environment to make our planet “more sustainable, vibrant and greener”.

In the background, the press release notes that Spain is becoming more open to the world: exports of goods and services (tourism in particular) account for 35% of national GDP, putting the country directly behind Germany in material in the European Union. Economic diplomacy is now one of the main axes of the Kingdom’s external action.

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Hotspots: Gibraltar and North Africa

In their analysis of the Action Plan, El País (Madrid) and La Vanguardia (Barcelona) retained the following elements:

With regard to the environment outside the immediate community, the Ministry pays “maximum” attention to relations with Great Britain (the Gibraltar issue will be settled) and with North Africa, a “strategic partner”. As the events of recent weeks recall, relations with Morocco in particular are traditionally sensitive, due to the multiple thorny issues (competition in fruits, vegetables and fishing, the Spanish Sahara and the Polisario Front, illegal immigration to the Canaries and in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla). The Sahel region is also of particular interest from the point of view of development and migration policy.

An alliance that does not forget Latin America

Relations with the United States are also a priority issue. Spain notes with satisfaction the passing of Donald Trump. It campaigns to strengthen the transatlantic link between European and American partners and bilaterally to develop trade with the United States of America.

Regarding the defense component, Madrid welcomes the excellent cooperation with Washington and NATO, but expresses its desire to “expand the transatlantic space and take into account Latin America”, without going into further details. On a more general level, Spain is committed to respecting the target of 2% of GDP for military spending (which is still far from it). At the same time, it wants the European Union to strengthen its strategic capabilities in the field of defense.

For obvious reasons, relations with Spanish-speaking America are presented as “one of the main pillars” of diplomatic strategy. In this context, Spain gives absolute priority to the rapid ratification of the EU-Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay) agreement, which was concluded in June 2019 after more than 20 years of negotiations, but is stalled at the level of the European Parliament. .

This passion resulted in the sending of a threatening letter from Pedro Sánchez to Ursula von der Leyen at the end of April. The Prime Minister demands that the file be opened, stressing that Latin America is suffering economically and politically from the destabilization of the Covid crisis. In addition, China in recent years has become the leading foreign investor in the region, at the expense of European positions.

El Pais remembers the reluctance of some member states to reject the agreement, particularly due to President Bolsonaro’s policy of accelerated deforestation. France is accused of “hiding its agricultural protection behind environmental excuses” and is considered the leader of the protesters (Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland), and Germany ranked middle.

With regard to the Near and Middle East, Spain considers Turkey a “strategic partner” whose membership prospects must be left open. As in the case of Mercosur, France is the main obstacle to the project.

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dotted lines…

Saudi Arabia, for its part, was overlooked in the external action plan. This port, though important to Spain, (especially with regard to armaments, equipment, and clothing) had become somewhat uncertain since King Juan Carlos, until then, abdicated the “VRP” of citizen interests to Saudi Arabia. The €6.7 billion contract for the high-speed line linking Medina with Makkah, which opened in September 2018, will be attributed to interpersonal skills.

In its geographical presentation, the Ministry places only a secondary place of Russia and China where “their presence is traditionally limited.” Spain will seek to strengthen ties with Russian civil society. China has been identified as a major and “increasingly determined” actor on the international stage, and relations should be strengthened in economic diplomacy and climate diplomacy.

One last point to note: Unlike Rajoy’s government, which is paralyzed by Catalan independence and its international activism, Pedro Sánchez’s team makes this weakness an advantage: the attack on territorial integrity is now presented. As an element of diversity, it is supposed to contribute to the effect of Spanish soft power.

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