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Spanish influence in the EU

Madrid’s role in EU decision-making is dwindling, but isolated protest is not the solution

The abstention of the Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos in the voting on the replacement of Jean-Claude Juncker at the head of the Eurogroup was intended to set off an alarm signal in the EU. But it will have little effect on our EU partner states — to whom it is addressed as a protest against the diminished Spanish presence in prominent posts — because it has all the appearance of a solitary gesture, in that it was not seconded by any other state in the European Union.

The abstention constitutes rather a signal of alarm for the Spanish public. Especially because this one is the latest in a long string of failures. First came the loss of the Spanish-held post in the European Central Bank Governing Council, which had been occupied since 2004 by José Manuel González-Páramo — a vacancy which the Spanish government offered to fill with a respectable professional whose curriculum, however, was found to be inadequate.

Later came our country's inability to obtain compensation for this snub by means of the posts it had solicited at the head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and now, of the Eurogroup, made up of euro-zone finance and economy ministers.

Spain's isolation within the EU is regrettable. All the more so, in that the Spanish government's complaint about insufficient representation in EU institutions is justified. However, there is a certain compensatory logic in terms of the pendular movement. Until very recently, there was an impressive number of experienced Spanish leaders and professionals at the head of EU foreign policy, the financial policy of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the ECB. Now there are more candidates for relevant posts; but between a certain reduction (as might be expected) in the Spanish presence, and the minimal presence of recent times, there is a huge gap. Particularly when other countries, such as France, have managed to preserve the strong presence they have always possessed; and to maintain, sometimes even in rather unpromising circumstances (such as the Strauss-Kahn scandal), their influence in the WTO, the IMF and the ECB itself.

Adverse, too, is the objective situation that this country must overcome if it is to remain present, not just in the hindmost cars of the EU train, but in its institutional locomotives. The deep recession in which Spain has lately been mired, its request for an EU bailout of its financial system, and the lingering doubts concerning its immediate economic future, are certainly not the best credentials for obtaining acceptance and influence.

The quality of the players concerned — in this case, the Spanish government — becomes especially apparent when, in the game of diplomacy, they do not have high cards in their hand. This why they should contain their leanings to lamentation and complaint, and take a closer look at their mistakes and insufficiencies in order to find allies and climb out of this negative situation in the European Union.

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