Global relations

Spain’s political stalemate taking toll on international diplomacy

Foreign policy decisions could be placed on hold until summer if no government is formed

Angel Merkel and Mariano Rajoy take a walk in Meseberg, Germany last August.
Angel Merkel and Mariano Rajoy take a walk in Meseberg, Germany last August.Markus Schreiber (AP)

Spain’s presence on the global stage has been greatly affected by the political uncertainty over the formation of a new government, with many fearing the hold on foreign policy decisions could drag on for months.

The government of acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which was enmeshed in a grueling election campaign last year and is now facing doubts over its future, has been absent from or overlooked at several important events in the past few months.

“As long as this situation persists, more opportunities will be missed”  – veteran diplomat

When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Europe following the signing of an anti-nuclear pact, his trip did not include a stopover in Spain.

Neither did Cuban President Raúl Castro include Spain on his itinerary when he traveled to Paris this week to repay a visit that French President François Hollande made to the Caribbean island last May.

The current political stalemate could last until the summer or even later, if a new election has to be held, meaning an entire year will have gone by without any major action taken on the global stage.

“As long as this situation persists, more opportunities will be missed,” said one veteran diplomat.

Although the Popular Party (PP) won the December 20 general election, Rajoy has been unable to muster enough support to stay on as prime minister. The opposition Socialists do not have enough seats in Congress on their own to form a government, but are now attempting to negotiate a cross-party deal.

Rajoy has not signed a bilateral agreement with any country since August when he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany.

Committed to his re-election campaign, Rajoy also put off making trips abroad except to important meetings such as the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, the G20 Summit in Turkey and Valletta Summit on Migration in Malta.

He also traveled to New York to preside over a session of the UN Security Council, though many described the event as a mere photo opportunity.

Since last summer, only five international leaders have paid visits to Madrid: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Under Spain’s acting government, the prime minister is the chief negotiator when it comes to international relations and Rajoy’s inactivity can hardly be made up for by his foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo.

Up until the end of the year, García-Margallo maintained a busy schedule with official trips to Iran, Paraguay, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia and other countries. But after the election, the foreign minister has also scaled back his trips.

It is unclear whether King Felipe will keep his scheduled state visit to Britain next month

He does plan to visit Rome and Morocco this week, but the only foreign ministers who have come to Madrid this year are Susana Malcorra of Argentina and Riyad al-Maliki of Palestine.

King Felipe, who as head of state meets with international leaders, has also been affected by the current political situation. He suspended an upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia because of the uncertainty over a future government – although the recent execution of 47 prisoners by Riyadh had also made it an inopportune moment for a visit.

It is still not clear whether Felipe will keep his scheduled trip to Britain from March 8 to 10 – the first state visit by a Spanish monarch to the country in three decades.

But the king cannot afford to miss out on a valuable opportunity for Spain by failing to attend the Seventh International Congress of the Spanish Language to be held from March 15 to 18 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The selection of the US territory as the venue is part of a long-term plan by Spain to help push for the practice, use and advancement of the Spanish language throughout the United States.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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