Spain: rich but not clubbable

Spain: rich but not clubbable

26th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Spain’s economy may have grown since 1970s, but its economic power has not been converted into international influence as seen from the G-20 meeting in November 2008.

Joining a select club is by definition a difficult task, but sometimes it can feel like an impossible one just like in the case of Spain where it took the government’s relentless efforts before it was allowed extraordinary presence in the G20 meeting in Washington in November 2008.

Even as statisticians argue whether the Spanish economy is the eighth largest in the world or the 12th, depending on which yardstick is used, what appears clear is that Spain's international representation is smaller than would seem warranted by its financial weight.

Critics are in no doubt: Spain's foreign policy lacks a genuine long-term strategy.

Nobody can deny Spain's spectacular growth in the last three decades. From its status as a developing country in the 1970s, Spain's GDP has since grown fivefold, aided by its joining of the European Union in 1986.

The country has climbed up the United Nations Development Index to 13th position. Eleven Spanish firms are among the world's 500 biggest companies; Banco Santander is the eighth-largest bank in the world, and BBVA ranks 16th. Spain is also the No 1 investor in Latin America.

"Ever since the transition [to democracy], growth has been spectacular; it is an economic miracle comparable to that of Ireland and postwar Germany," said Federico Steinberg, a professor at Madrid's Autonomous University and a researcher at the Real Instituto Elcano think-tank.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (R) talks with his Portuguese counterpart Jose Socrates in Zamora, on 22 January 2009, during their meeting before the XXIV Spain-Portugal summit. The leaders of Spain and Portugal gather for their annual summit, this year focusing on the global economic crisis. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL RIOPA

However, this economic power has not been reflected in greater political clout on the international scene. Of course, it does not help that Spain has fewer diplomats than the Netherlands, or that the Foreign Ministry's budget is one of the smallest in Europe relative to national GDP.

A 2005 report commissioned by the government ahead of a future reform of the diplomatic corps recognised that recent efforts to promote the country's interests abroad have been "insufficient".

"We have a stunted foreign policy in terms of our economic size," said Jordi Vaquer, an analyst with Fundación Cidob. "My impression is that Spanish foreign policy is something you have to intuit."

"There is no clear vision, although the same can be said of European policy, and that is dangerous," added Shaun Riordan, a consultant and former British diplomat, who believes that Spain has lost influence in Africa in recent years.

"We lack a state policy on what role to play in the world, with what arguments and for what purpose. Do we want to be a country of mediators, like the Scandinavians? Or a country with no qualms about using force?" asked José Ignacio Torreblanca, director of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Spanish State Secretary for the European Union Diego Lopez Garrido (L) meets with Italian Minister for European Union Policies Andrea Ronchi in Madrid on 22 May 2008.AFP PHOTO/ PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

The government points to the long period of dictatorship that Spain emerged from in the late 1970s.

"Since then we have been slowly advancing in our strategy definition; I think we will consolidate it during this legislature," said Diego López Garrido, secretary of state for the EU, who claims that Spain now has clear policy guidelines focusing on Europe and being a leader in relations with Latin America, as well as reinforcing the country's role in Africa and Asia.

"Our cooperation policy is cutting edge, and it was Spain that got the EU to lift the sanctions against Cuba," López Garrido added.

Be that as it may, each democratic administration has exercised a personal style of foreign policy with wildly varying visions of how best to defend the country's interests abroad. Former Socialist leader Felipe González was often seen with other European leaders.

US President George W. Bush (R) greets Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at the G20 Summit at the National Building Museum on 15 November 2008 in Washington. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON


The Popular Party's José María Aznar went down in history as a staunch supporter of George W Bush's policies, including the Iraq war. Now, the Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is the proponent of concepts such as the "Alliance of Civilizations" and a staunch defender of the United Nations.

Three decades after the advent of democracy, Spain continues to seek its place in the world's great economic forums. It was excluded from the wealthiest nations' club because at the time of its formation Spain was no such thing, but was also left out of the emerging economies club in the late 1990s because by then it was not one of them either.


 Moroccans are pictured in front of an advertisement reading "work abroad, expenses paid" during a recruitment campaign for agricultural labourers to work in Spain, on January 13, 2009 in Fes. The Moroccan National Agency for the promotion of Employment and Skill (ANAPEC), in collaboration with the Spanish Immigration board, is launching a recruitment of 15,600 seasonal labourers to come to Spain to pick strawberries. Candidates must be married with children so as to assure the Spanish authorities that they do not intend to stay in Spain. AFP PHOTO/ABDELHAK SENNA

At over EUR 1 trillion, Spain's GDP is the fifth largest in the euro zone and the eighth in the world, ahead of Canada and Russia, who are nevertheless in the G-8 club. In terms of purchasing power, however, Spain ranks 12th after India, Brazil and Mexico, who are members of the G-20.

"We have always been a bit isolated, but not just because of Franco or because the democratic governments have done better or worse," said Juan José Toribio, a professor at the IESE business school in Madrid. "There are other, more complex conditions, such as the historical evolution of the economy."

26 January 2009

text: El Pais / Cristina Galindo / Expatica

0 Comments To This Article