"The best foreign policy starts with a great domestic policy"

The Francisco de Vitoria University closes the seminar ‘A foreign strategy for Spain’ with the presence of former President Aznar and former ministers González Laya and Josep Piqué
Bandera de España

PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -   The Spanish flag flying in Plaza de Colón square

Understanding that we are part of a collective entity that transcends our particularities entails a certain difficulty. And when we transfer this axis to the political terrain, the imaginary exercise becomes even more complicated. But the degree of difficulty should not exempt us from the effort of perceiving that the logic of the local is framed within the dynamics coming from outside, even more so in a world globalised 'ad infinitum'. This reasoning is not very common in Spain, a country so used to observing itself and with a pernicious tendency to ignore the international chessboard and its implications.

To reverse this dynamic, the Francisco de Vitoria University's Centre for International Security has organised 'A foreign strategy for Spain', a two-day conference dedicated to analysing Spain's foreign policy priorities and their implementation, as well as its challenges and opportunities in the different regions of the world. The meeting was financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, with the participation of the Libertas, Veritas et Legalitas Forum.

The conference kicked off on 28 October, and this Monday has been brought to a close with high-level guests who have not only been in the front row, but who have also taken important decisions. In the case of the economist Josep Piqué, almost two decades ago; in that of the diplomat Arancha González Laya, only four months ago. Both, however, at the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The former Prime Minister José María Aznar, in charge of closing an event whose mission has been more than fulfilled, was also part of the luxury line-up.

UFV España exterior
PHOTO  -  Presentation of the second and last day of the event 'A foreign strategy for Spain' in the Aula Magna of the Francisco de Vitoria University

Spain's role in Europe, the challenge of strategic autonomy for the continent, geopolitics and geoeconomics, existential threats to Spain, the project of nationhood and internal cohesion were at the centre of the debate. A debate that quickly mutated into a cordial exchange of ideas and opinions between two figures belonging to the country's two main ideological currents, González Laya and Josep Piqué, and which the Congress corridors should take note of in terms of tone, form and, above all, content.

The director of the Forum Libertas, Veritas et Legalitas, Fernando Maura, who acted as moderator, brought up the concepts of the first day to introduce the European question. A subject on which González Laya contradicted Ortega and was categorical: "Spain is not the problem and Europe the solution, but rather Europe is the future and Spain has part of the solution". A perception shared by Piqué, although for the economist the axes of Spain's foreign policy are also the Mediterranean and Latin America.

Laya insisted that Spain "has a lot to say on the continent". "We can help in the construction of a strategic European autonomy", said the former minister. In this respect, Laya recalled that Spain was one of the driving forces behind the recovery funds during the COVID-19 crisis, a measure that has characterised Brussels' response to the post-pandemic scenario. And his commitment does not stop there: "We must propose a common European strategy with the special contribution of Spain, taking into account its economic conditions - as the fourth largest EU economy - and its cultural and geographical conditions".

Arancha González Laya
PHOTO  -  The former Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation until last July, Arancha González Laya

The former minister, for his part, expressed the importance of Spain as a partner of the United States, ahead of actors such as the European Union: "The world is changing at a dizzying pace and there is one axis that is important: the relationship with the United States". For Josep Piqué, Spain's projection "is all the more important the more weight we have in Europe, the greater our presence in Latin America and the better our relations with the United States". Washington being the key cog in the wheel.

US support seems to have been diluted in the last decade. The arrival of Donald Trump in the White House with his 'America First' or the closeness of his Administration with actors such as Morocco, with which Spain is going through a diplomatic crisis, has weakened the Atlantic ties that were at an all-time high during Aznar's presidency and under Piqué's own leadership at the head of the Foreign Affairs portfolio.

The former minister also highlighted the US military presence in Spain, materialised with the bases in Morón and Rota. And he stressed that Spain will have "a great opportunity with next year's NATO summit" to advance in the challenge of strategic autonomy and strengthen its bilateral relations with Washington, but also to learn about the role we want to play on the geopolitical stage. A new panorama that "is no longer Western".

Josep Piqué
PHOTO  -  The former Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2000 and 2002, Josep Piqué

Piqué asserted that we continue to suffer from a Eurocentric vision of things when "we have become peripheral". Although the European Union is one of the greatest geopolitical achievements in history, the EU-27 "have to think about what they want to be when they grow up and get out of adolescence", said Piqué. 

"We live in a post-Western world," said Piqué. "We used to talk about the Asia-Pacific region and now we are talking about the Indo-Pacific, a new concept that indicates this change in the planet's centre of gravity, which has shifted from the Atlantic to the Strait of Malacca, the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. Laya pointed to the return of power relations, that is, a return to geopolitics understood as such.

In this dynamic, for González Laya, areas such as the economy, ecology and even technology are increasingly defining international relations. In fact, these three points are at the epicentre of the battle for world hegemony waged by China and the United States, to which "we must seek a European response". In the context of opportunities, however, the former minister also places technology in the compartment of threats. A double-edged sword to which we must pay attention.

José María Aznar
PHOTO  -  Former Prime Minister José María Aznar in conversation with analyst Florentino Portero

With regard to Latin America, both agreed on the significant role that Spain plays for obvious reasons. Both are aware that this region is an area towards which Spain should project itself, despite the fact that the few remaining full democracies in Latin America "are going through a process of internal disintegration". For Piqué, the southern region has never believed in itself as a dominant region due to historical and political errors, which has led to the "resurgence of indigenism and Hispanophobia, which comes from populism and has a strong identitarian character that is alien to the West and, therefore, alien to its values". 

For Laya, this is explained by the need to "possess a political legitimacy that is different from our own". In Piqué's words, indigenism is an amendment to the westernisation of Latin America. "We must pay attention to it, not just us, but also the US, because China is doing its job". The priority is to maintain a state policy, because if values and principles are perceived from the outside as being at the service of political confrontation, you cease to be a reliable country.

González Laya, who was dismissed in July as part of a government reshuffle for her handling of the crisis with Morocco, declared that Spain is subject to "existential threats. Above all, hybrid weapons'. To which we must give a forceful response and "leave personal quarrels behind" on the national political chessboard. A view echoed by Piqué, who saw Rabat recall the Spanish ambassador to Morocco on two occasions during his time at the helm of the ministry.

On this issue, the former minister pointed out that the regional dispute between Algeria and Morocco represents a "risk of military confrontation", as was the case in the Sands War. "In the Sahara dispute, we are seeing that foreign policy influences our daily lives", he remarked. With respect to Morocco, Piqué admitted that "we have a difficult issue to resolve, not only with the sovereignty of the Sahara, but also with Ceuta and Melilla", which are claimed by Moroccan nationalism. A dispute that we must settle.

José Maria Aznar

José María Aznar

The former Prime Minister of Spain, José María Aznar, monopolised the second part of the meeting, accompanied by the analyst Florentino Portero. During the talk, the conservative leader, a regular at events at the Francisco de Vitoria University, analysed Spain's current foreign policy and criticised the current government led by Pedro Sánchez, whom he criticised for lacking national cohesion, as he received the backing of nationalist and separatist groups.

"The best foreign policy begins with a great domestic policy", he said. The former president of the Partido Popular misses Spain's leading role abroad, which he himself tried to imprint during the two legislatures he was in La Moncloa. "Spain has fallen into anonymity, and that is not desirable", said Aznar, a president who tried at all costs to place Spain on the map of international relations.

His ambition led him to star in one of the most controversial images in contemporary Spanish history when he posed with his feet on the table with the then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his US counterpart, George W. Bush, in the Azores, from where he showed his support for Washington to undertake the invasion of Iraq. "We have lost a legacy with the United States. Now we are begging for a handshake. What is to be done?" asked Portero. Aznar ended, however, with a fiery defence of the European Union, calling for the fulfilment of bilateral agreements and analysing the current geopolitical panorama from a national perspective.