Spain’s new European destiny – European Council on Foreign Relations

Last month, Spain was sworn in to a new socialist government led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, which now has the political momentum on its side to regain control of its foreign policy, its place in the European Union and as a leader on the issue of migration. . In two views on the new government’s foreign policy priorities, Council members Cristina Manzano and Javi Lopez illustrate the importance of an active Spain in the European project.

Spain’s about-face: the new cabinet

After years of punching below its weight, Spain are ready to take back the lead in the European project

by Cristina Manzano

It has been barely a month since Pedro Sánchez and the Socialist Party (PSOE) came to power in Spain, but the country’s political environment has already changed completely.

After the first moment of disbelief and uncertainty, given the speed and unexpected victory of the vote of no confidence in Mariano Rajoy, a generally positive mood set in. The appointment of a remarkably competent, modern, European and feminine cabinet – with more women (11) than men (7) – showed that another path was possible. Seven years of People’s Party (PP) rule, the last two with a fragile situation in Congress, had led to a general feeling of deadlock. The fight against unemployment, the economic crisis and the Catalan crisis have absorbed all the energy of the government, leaving almost all other problems untouched.

Rajoy did not firmly believe in the power of foreign and European policy. He could have used such a policy to improve Spain’s position in its bank rescue negotiations or to explain the country’s arguments against the Catalan separatists – who have been very active and effective in promoting their cause – but he preferred keep a low profile on the international stage.

Sánchez, on the other hand, appointed Josep Borrell as foreign minister. An experienced politician, former president of the European Parliament, former president of the Istituto Universitario Europeo di Firenze and a Catalan himself, Borrell publicly opposes Catalan independence.

As economy minister, the new prime minister brought Nadia Calviño back to Spain after serving as director general of the European Union’s budget – another very clear signal to Brussels of the government’s willingness to meet its commitments to the EU. ‘Europe.

The appointment of a remarkably competent, modern, European and feminine cabinet – with more women than men – showed that another path was possible.

The first foreign policy measures of the new administration represent a complete break with the past. The offer to accept migrants from the rescue ship Aquarius in Spain to avert a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ generally contrasts with the xenophobic actions of the new Italian government. It also moves away from the migration policy of Sánchez’s predecessor. Although migration issues are not among the major concerns of the Spanish population, the PP has never reached the quota of refugees agreed with Brussels.

Sánchez’s decision thus opened a new phase in Spain’s involvement in the migration debate – a debate that moved to the top of the agenda at the last meeting of the European Council. As a result, Madrid has pledged to welcome more migrants, for which it will receive specific financial assistance. Sánchez also made a point of backing French President Emmanuel Macron and his (so far frustrated) plan to strengthen the eurozone.

In a frantic tour to forge new alliances, Sánchez has visited Paris, Brussels, Berlin and Lisbon over the past ten days. His fluency in English and French was surely very useful. It may seem like a minor detail, but it’s the first time since the country joined the EU that Spain has had a prime minister who can speak both languages ​​fluently.

The meeting with António Costa, the Portuguese Prime Minister, is of particular importance. At a time when the left seems to have completely lost its future, Portugal has become a model. His coalition government – formed by the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the Left Bloc – has succeeded in maintaining a strong economy, advancing progressive social policies, transforming Portugal’s energy system and keeping its nationals at key international positions, including in the UN Secretariat and the presidency of the Eurogroup, among others. And Portugal is also important in the constitution, with Spain, of a new southern front – in the absence of Italy – which can join the Franco-German axis in the defense of a stronger Europe.

The reality is that the Spanish government has very limited room for manoeuvre. Its extreme fragility in Congress – with barely 85 seats out of 350 – and the fragmentation of the political landscape will force the PSOE to find a few social issues on which it can maintain the support of Podemos, the party to its left, and to try to present as a strong option before calling elections (expected in 2020).

Interestingly, after years of Spain under his weight, Sánchez seems willing to give foreign policy the role it should have. He also seems to understand the critical moment the EU is going through and the importance for Spain to actively revitalize the European project. Whether he will have enough resources and political support to pull this off remains to be seen.

Southern Europe has a new leader: Spain

New Spanish government shows commitment to lead the way in Southern Europe

by Javi Lopez

Spain’s new socialist government led by Pedro Sánchez is – perhaps like no other before it – fully committed to the European project. This is likely due to a combination of good timing and the arrival of the country’s first polyglot president with experience in Brussels. As a full member of the European Council, the country can now have a greater say in the ongoing reforms of the European Union. But what is the agenda of the new Spanish government for the Union?

Maintaining good relations with Germany

More importantly, Sánchez will try to preserve the good relations that his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, had with Germany, the most powerful country in Europe. The greatest legacy of the outgoing government consists of considerable diplomatic assets which must be protected – a process which will be facilitated by the appointment by Spain of new ministers of economy and foreign affairs that all of Europe has accepted in the unanimity. These appointments serve to smooth Madrid’s relations with a German government obsessed with budgetary orthodoxy and moral hazard. But, without a doubt, it is the long-standing and special relationship between the German Social Democratic Party and Spain’s ruling Socialist Party – created in the image of its German friend – that plays a key role in the relationship. .

Take the crown of Italy

The new government has the responsibility of being the major interlocutor of southern Europe. It has always disputed this role with Italy, since this other Mediterranean power had significant demographic weight and the privilege of being a founding member of the EU. So far, Mattarella’s Italy has enjoyed great influence within the EU, retaining access to high-ranking positions. But Spain can now take advantage of the calamitous change in Italian politics to regain power. A high-risk experiment is unfolding in Rome with the rise of a populist, xenophobic and eurosceptic cabinet that poses a real threat to European stability. The new Italian government increases the risk of fluctuations in financial markets (of the kind seen after the vote of no confidence that toppled Rajoy), but it also represents an opportunity for Spain to become the key interlocutor with the South on the reforms of the euro.

The Spanish government, shaped within the European framework, should regain the importance it has lost over the past decade.

Support Macron’s reform program

Sánchez’s government is expected to support Emmanuel Macron’s reform program on the single currency and the EU. The French president has presented the most viable EU reform proposal of any European leader, in an effort that could benefit Spain and other countries affected by the shortcomings of the single currency. His program will face a lot of resistance and deserve Madrid’s full support.

With Brexit looming, Spain should use its political and economic clout to bolster the French agenda in Brussels. At the same time, the Spanish socialist government will have to be careful not to get too close to Macron’s agenda, since everything indicates that he is getting closer to a competitor of the socialist party and his alter ego in Spain, Albert Rivera .

Counterbalancing illiberal democracies in Eastern Europe

Spain has the largest social democratic government in Europe. Working alongside its Portuguese counterpart, the government has the potential to lead its political family in Brussels and European reform talks. Spain can reform and unite the Iberian alliance, becoming an engine for social democracy and for the European left as a whole. The European legislative elections of 2019 and the subsequent reallocation of seats in the European institutions could reinforce this growing influence.

At the same time, Spain can and must counterbalance the increasingly illiberal democracies of Eastern Europe. Spain is a pro-European country with an open and immigration-friendly political system and society. It is important to note that there is no extreme right in the Spanish Parliament – ​​a real anomaly in the European context. Spain should highlight this context and use it to strengthen the position of social democratic parties in the EU. The Spanish government, shaped within the European framework, should regain the importance it has lost over the past decade. There is no reason for the parliamentary weakness of the ruling Socialists to have any impact in this area, since the EU is the only way forward for Sánchez’s cabinet. European politics is the area in which Spain’s future is played out and in which it has always dreamed of finding its destiny.

This article was originally published in Spanish on June 10 in El Periódico de Catalunya.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take a collective position. ECFR publications represent the views of its individual authors only.