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OPINION
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Spanish eyes

Madrid’s perception of a lack of influence in Europe is right; and there are good reasons for this

Xavier Vidal-Folch

First, is the grievance well founded? It is: of Spaniards, only Joaquín Almunia occupies a relevant post in the European Union. And is there a bright side? There is: we were worse off when we were outside the Union. We have to identify the reasons, and find a way to address them.

The causes seem clear. Principally, as a bailed-out country, our credentials for playing an influential role are poor. But this pariah handicap can be overcome. Other vulnerable countries do it: there is a Portuguese, Vítor Constâncio, as vice-president of the ECB, and an Italian, Mario Draghi, as its president.

Another liability is the lack of enthusiasm for EU affairs on the part of our present prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, (and of the previous one, too, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero). They pay attention to these matters when Spain is directly affected: if, especially in the short term, they can smell some political profit to be made, or a storm to be avoided.

But there is no passion, at least for the moment. Without which, it is hard to attract collaboration, or canvass support from anyone. Today the real foreign ministers (and, almost, those of finance and economy) are their chiefs, the prime ministers. And these must be active, if they wish to be listened to, more as members of the European Council than as viceroys of their parochial territories.

Spain has done hardly anything in terms of a strategy of economic and corporate alliances with Eastern EU states

The third key element of Spanish weakness is the fact that its European policy (including foreign policy) is none other than the outward aspect of internal policy. A country with so little propensity to domestic consensus can hardly have the authority necessary to act in working out challenges and agreements in the EU, as has so often been accomplished by the small Benelux countries. Nor is it imaginable that a country itself racked by excessive inter-regional tensions can have any magic wands to offer for easing the many frictions of this sort in the Union.

The fourth cause is that the landscape has changed, and we have hardly noticed. Since the Central and Eastern European countries approached the Union and then joined it, Spain has done hardly anything in terms of a strategy of economic and corporate alliances with these states -- except episodically, during the regrettable episode of the Iraq War, when the Spanish "influence" on certain Eastern European states to support the war was merely delegated from Washington. And now, perhaps never so patently, we have no friends.

Years ago, Spanish civil servants, diplomats and ministers used a handy little book, Manual del negociador en la Comunidad Europea (Manual for the negotiator in the European Community) by Enrique González (1992), which showed how to understand the EU states and their byways of power, and how to explain yourself intelligibly to them since, as Rafael de Campalans puts it, "politics amounts to pedagogy."

This book has to be taken down of the shelf and dusted off. Meanwhile, here are seven basic points for success in Brussels: 1. Do favors and don't ask for whom; 2. Put forward irreproachable names if you want to occupy a vacant post, and good ideas at a crossroads; 3. Concern yourself with others as much as yourself, or you will be suspected of viewing the conjuncture narrowly and selfishly, with "Spanish eyes;" 4. Don't voice criticism of others, or flaunt your own successes, and help those who are going through a bad moment; 5. Don't make a stink and walk out more than once a year; 6. Never go out on a limb, except in extreme situations, and with certain hedges to ensure compensation; 7. Negotiate your second best option beforehand to avoid isolation.

These are not charitable works, but rules of conduct used by the most respected partners in the EU.

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