Spain seeking to boost international image amid coronavirus crisis

The Foreign Ministry wants to use the country’s diversity as a selling point to improve its global reputation, which has been damaged by the pandemic

Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya.
Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya.Chema Moya (EFE)

The Spanish Foreign Ministry has tasked a group of experts with improving the country’s international image, which has been damaged by the fallout of the coronavirus crisis. Spain is one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic in Europe, reporting more than 800,000 infections and 32,000 official fatalities since the virus broke out in March.

In a bid to improve Spain’s reputation, the government intends to focus on an element that is often perceived as a weakness within the country: its diversity. Ten experts – including sociologists, political scientists and researchers – will look at how diversity defines Spain and how this feature can be used to boost the country’s standing internationally. The group will also analyze other strengths and defining characteristics of Spain, Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya explained on Monday.

According to the minister, Spain can use its linguistic, cultural and gastronomical diversity to represent itself on the global stage. The government also wants to focus on promoting Spain as an open and modern country that supports multilateralism at a time when many important nations are calling it into question.

The Foreign Ministry wants the project to be completed by the beginning of next year. “If Spain learns how to [make diversity an international selling point] and is successful, it could be a laboratory that inspires others that are facing these same challenges,” said González Laya in a discussion on Europe organized by the European Association of Journalists, as reported by news agency Europa Press.

According to government sources, the expert group will be made up of historian and former education minister Mercedes Cabrera; the head of Spain’s National Research Institute (CSIC) Rosa Menéndez; former secretary of state José María Lassalle; political scientist Máriam Martínez-Bascuñán, who is a member of the EL PAÍS opinion section; philosopher Adela Cortina; sociologist Xabier Barandiaran; historian Carrie Gibson; philosopher Daniel Innerarity; head of CIDOB ideas laboratory Pol Morillas; and political science professor Sami Naïr. Once the group is formally established, the professionals will begin analyzing how to use diversity to improve Spain’s international image.

From Catalonia to coronavirus

This is not the first time that the Foreign Ministry has set up a project aimed at boosting the country’s global reputation. Since Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez launched the Global Spain initiative, the Foreign Ministry has been working to counter negative messages about Spain that have made an impact overseas.

The first phase of the initiative targeted ideas against the state of Spanish democracy spread by the Catalan independence movement in neighboring European countries. Although these messages hold much less currency now, González Laya sought to further undermine their place in Europe. “The response to diversity in the 21st century cannot be balkanization,” she said on Monday.

The Global Spain initiative, however, has since come up against an unexpected challenge: how to defend the Spanish government’s handling of the pandemic on the international stage. In recent days, the Foreign Ministry has been trying to rebuild confidence in countries that traditionally provide the largest source of tourists to Spain, such as Germany and the United Kingdom.

In an effort to attract visitors ahead of summer, the ministry launched the campaign Spain For Sure, which included the participation of Spain’s royal family. But the high incidence of the coronavirus in the country destroyed all hopes of a rebound in international visitors. Now, as well as negotiating safe travel corridors with the Canary and Balearic Islands, the Foreign Ministry is organizing sessions with foreign correspondents to explain how the government is managing the coronavirus pandemic.

By the end of the year, the experts of the new initiative are expected to come up with a document outlining what defines Spain and what role it can play in the world. From these ideas, a campaign will be designed to strengthen the country’s international image in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Sources from the government say that polls show that the opinion of Spain among foreigners is much more positive than could be expected.

English version by Melissa Kitson.


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