Expatica news

News feature: Spain’s image abroad

16 November 2007

MADRID – Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced on Wednesday that he was to examine his country’s relations with Madrid, suggesting that Spanish investment and business interests could be threatened.

Using a crisis with Spain to divert attention from his domestic problems may work in the short term, but will also damage the country’s international position.

Equally important is that the worsening crisis with Venezuela comes the day after the rejection of Spain’s candidate to head NATO, Félix Sanz. Some risks are not worth taking unless one has the necessary support to guarantee the right outcome.

This is not the first time that Prime Minister Rodríguez Zapatero government has made the same mistake.

In November last year it put forward then Health Minister Elena Salgado for the post of head of the World Health Organization, even though she had little chance. Given this country’s international position, as well as the reputation of its candidates, the government needs to be more careful when putting Spaniards forward to head international organizations. Having a go, or simply hoping for the best, is not a strategy.

Zapatero inherited a difficult foreign affairs situation. In its last term of office, the Popular Party (PP) radically changed the priorities that had governed Spanish diplomacy for nearly three decades. Instead of the focus on Europe, Latin America, and the Mediterranean of his predecessors, then Prime Minister José María Aznar made US relations his priority, an about-turn that was not accomplished without serious consequences for Spanish foreign policy.

Zapatero has worked hard to restore the previous priorities, but the results of his diplomatic efforts are far from tangible. While the matter is largely out of his hands, it is true to say that the project of European integration is in crisis, and that this affects Spain.

As regards Latin America, the government has shown itself unable to prevent bilateral tensions with some of the biggest economic players.

In the Mediterranean, he has replaced Aznar’s interest in Algeria with support for Morocco. But Rabat was undermined by the royal visit to the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, in turn weakening Spain’s position throughout North Africa.

The fact that the tension that has characterized domestic politics has now spread to foreign policy will do nothing to help Spain recover its international position.

The maneuverings of the opposition or by Aznar himself against certain countries and regimes, along with a range of international initiatives to chip away at Zapatero’s position, have worked not only to weaken the government; they have also impacted on foreign policy, as can be seen in the case of Venezuela.

Thanks to the lack of any agreement between the two main parties, Chávez has been given the opportunity to interfere in Spanish domestic politics, worsening the crisis between the two countries, while at the same time heightening tension between the government and the PP.

The result will be that whatever action Spain now takes, it will lack the necessary vigor.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL. 2007]

Subject: Spanish news