INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Spain drafts new foreign policy that incorporates gender perspective

The Spanish government has developed guidelines for boosting its relevance in the international arena

Foreign Affairs Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday.JOHN THYS / AFP

The Spanish government has updated its guidelines for international relations. A draft of the 2021-2024 Foreign Action Strategy, which the Cabinet is planning to send to parliament on Tuesday, discusses the “opportunity” to improve relations with the United States now that Joe Biden is the new US president. It also emphasizes the need for “a feminist foreign policy” and “humanitarian diplomacy.”

This document will replace the previous foreign policy strategy drafted in 2015. Although it only represents the government’s opinion, other sources were consulted – including regional, provincial and local authorities, and national agencies such as the Council of State, the government’s top advisory body.

Spain hopes to gain relevance in the international arena with a policy based on “reformed and reinforced multilateralism”

The 100-page text draws a somber picture of a fractured global scenario where the concept of multilateralism is in crisis. “We live in an increasingly volatile and fragmented world that tends to generate two opposing trends: an outward force of disunity marked by the rise of populisms and exclusionary nationalisms, and an inward force with inclusive answers to global challenges,” reads the document.

In this context, Spain hopes to gain added relevance in the international arena with a policy based on “reformed and reinforced multilateralism.” The strategy, drafted in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, holds that the health crisis has accelerated processes that were already underway, but that it is still too soon to know whether we are immersed in “an era of change or in a change of era.”

The following are some of the main points:

United States. The Biden administration “opens up a more optimistic scenario” and “an opportunity that has to be taken.” Spain wants “a broader agenda for bilateral relations in the economic and trade spheres,” and will seek to get “unfair unilateral trade measures lifted,” alluding to tariffs on olive oil and wine. The existing cooperation on defense issues should be maintained, and the Cervantes Institute will open a new branch in Los Angeles, adding to the ones in New York, Chicago and New Mexico.

Europe. Spain will encourage “a more federal European Union” with greater strategic autonomy, competence over more policy areas, and more matters that may be approved through qualified majorities rather than unanimous votes. Spain will play an active role in the Conference on the Future of Europe, which will address necessary reforms for the EU, and encourage the integration process when it holds the six-month rotating EU presidency in the second half of 2023. The document calls for the consolidation of permanent tools of joint debt issue and for Europe to create its own resources, as well as for a harmonized tax system that ends competition within the EU. The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU is described as “a great opportunity for Spain to take on greater leadership towards a more global Europe.”

Feminism. Spain will approve a Feminist Foreign Policy Strategy to incorporate gender issues “in all areas of foreign action” and it will “lead by example” by encouraging a greater presence of women in Spain’s external activities. Women currently represent 28% of diplomats and 20% of mission heads. Spain will also lead initiatives to promote diversity, “particularly LGTBI rights and the rights of all communities that are underprivileged or discriminated against.”

Latin America. Spain will encourage relations between the EU and Latin America and support the completion of an agreement with the Mercosur trade bloc. The king and queen will visit Chile to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the first documented circumnavigation of the globe. Several Central American countries, as well as Peru and Mexico, are also celebrating the bicentennial of their independence. The latter country is also observing the controversial 500th anniversary of Hernán Cortés’ conquest, and Spain will work towards “a constructive dialogue about the celebration of historical milestones.” In Venezuela, “the priority will be restoring the democratic framework and providing support for overcoming the political and humanitarian crisis.” As for Cuba, the country is “updating its political and economic model” and Spain must stimulate this process “through critical yet constructive support.”

Immigration. Spain supports a European System of Immigration and Asylum guided by the principles of solidarity and equally shared responsibility. It wants to see “integral management of borders,” a zero-tolerance policy against smuggling rings, and the creation of “safe, regular and orderly migration channels.”

Health. Spain will support the European Commission’s efforts to create the foundations for “a European health union,” as well as the reform and reinforcement of multilateral global institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

United Nations. Spain will apply to sit on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2025-2027 period. The technological platform for the UN system in Quart de Poblet (Valencia) will be consolidated and expanded.

China. Spain will seek “more balanced relations” with China, especially on economic issues, avoiding “dynamics of confrontation.” It will encourage a strategic relationship through the EU, without ignoring “clear elements of rivalry in terms of values and interests” especially on human rights issues and unfair competition.

Development aid. The document maintains a commitment to earmark 0.5% of Spain’s gross domestic product (GDP) to development aid. A new law on international cooperation for sustainable development will be passed, and the Spanish International Cooperation Agency will undergo reform.

Climate. Spain wants to lead agreements on climate change with a “climate diplomacy.” It will encourage an international coalition on green hydrogen (hydrogen production from water) and will commit to the protection of biodiversity.

Western Sahara. Spain’s priority with regard to its former colony is to “contribute to the UN’s efforts to reach a political solution to the conflicts in the region in accordance with international parameters.”

Gibraltar. Gibraltar is only mentioned in reference to the recent agreement of December 31 laying out the groundwork to incorporate the British Overseas Territory into the Schengen space. Spain will “encourage the negotiation process for an agreement between the EU and the UK with regard to Gibraltar.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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