Over the last three decades, following the end of the Franco dictatorship, Spain has had to reconfigure its international projection. The isolation arising from the country’s alignment with the axis powers, which was only disrupted by the cold war, determined Spain’s international policy for decades.
The transition to and consolidation of democracy was a successful effort on all fronts: the authoritarian regime was done away with, power became decentralised, Spanish economy and society were modernised, and foreign policy was geared to placing Spain in the international position it should occupy.
From the first years of the transition to democracy, Spanish governments embarked on a long process of integration within the European institutions: the Council of Europe and the European Communities. The treaty of accession was signed in June 1985 and Spain effectively became a member in January 1986. Diplomatic relations were established with Israel and in March a referendum was held on Spain’s membership of Nato. During those years the bilateral agreements with the US were renegotiated and Spain reoriented its political relations with Latin America and the Mediterranean countries.
With these new parameters, Spain faced the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of the Soviet Union and the emergence of countries in central and eastern Europe that abandoned their communist dictatorships and seeked to join the European Union, without neglecting its neighbours in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean.
The Arab-Israeli peace conference held in Madrid towards the end of 1991, with the consensus of the US, the Soviet Union and all of the countries involved, helped to establish Spain’s new position on the international scene.
Since signing the treaty of accession, Spain has been a committed player in the construction of Europe, with a vision geared towards Europe, convinced that its best option was to deepen its integration – the interior market, the euro, co-ordinated economic and fiscal policies, European foreign and security policy, etc – and to extend its borders so as to include countries wishing to and in a position to comply with the EU’s rules.
The EU has grown from 12 to 27 member states since Spain became a member, and there are still relevant candidates, such as Turkey, waiting to join. This has not been a hindrance to the monetary union, with the implementation of the euro at the turn of the century, or for advancements in the interior market. However, the implosion of the international financial system and the severe consequences for Europe have laid bare the inconsistencies of a single monetary policy and diverging economic and fiscal policies in the various member states.
It must not be forgotten that the effort of extending the EU to incorporate countries that had been under the influence of the former Soviet Union did not hinder the definition of a proximity policy with the countries along the southern bank of the Mediterranean at the Barcelona conference in late 1995, together with the relevant budget provisions. The follow-up of the agreements, with all of the economic, trade, security and political components, was not thorough enough, and we are now paying the consequences of the blatant absence of the European Union in the unfolding of events in northern Africa.
The current global context has changed thoroughly and suddenly. The disappearance of the bloc politics and the technology revolution has set us, as Spaniards and Europeans, before a new situation, with emerging countries that are shifting the economic and political power from west to east. Europe is lagging in terms of the reforms it needs and Spain must be a co-player in the essential drive required for these changes: structural reforms to enhance its competitive capacity, adding value to its economy; reforms to enable economic and fiscal governance; reforms in its foreign actions to enable the fulfilment of its responsibilities in light of the changes taking place in the Arab world and in other regions.
As the world changed, Europe was submerged in its own internal challenges, neglecting these global changes. This situation is leading Europe to a loss of global relevance that affects all of its members. We are facing the paradox of a rebirth of nationalist attitudes at a time when we most need to strengthen the European public space that we share.
For Spain it is essential to count on Europe. Its own foreign projection towards Latin America, Northern Africa and the East, improves with the synergies we are able to generate as Europeans. Just like all the other countries in the union, Spain has its own history, its culture, and its priority ties with the world, but being integrated into a Europe that is becoming less relevant as a whole also means that we will become less relevant as a country.
By Felipe González, a former president of Spain.