A juicio del International Herald Tribune, la España de Zapatero está perdiendo el peso internacional que tenía la España de González o Aznar. Charles Grant, del Center for European Reform, habla del sorprendente “declive” de España, cuyo “perfil político” internacional se estaría viniendo abajo. España habría dejado de ser un actor influyente… “Spain is not one of the key players who decides what happens in Europe..”
Iniciativas como la Alianza de Civilizaciones se perciben “nebulosas”. “Materias de referencia” son la inmigración y los nuevos derechos de mujeres y homosexuales. José Ignacio Torreblanca estima que “Zapatero no es Churchill”.
International Herald Tribune, 17 agosto 2007
Spain pulls in its horns – and forfeits its influence
By Victoria Burnett
MADRID: As the international media followed every detail of Nicolas Sarkozy’s American vacation last week, it was difficult, from Madrid, not to marvel at the very different scenario in Andalusia, where José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was taking his holiday.
Unlike the French president, for Zapatero there was no hobnobbing with other world leaders, no pack of foreign paparazzi clicking in his wake and certainly no public appearances in his swimming trunks. He walked on the beach, fully dressed, and was snapped kissing a young immigrant boy.
That’s about as international as the summer vacation is likely to get for Spain’s stay-at-home leader, who, both at work and at play, shows little interest in globetrotting.
A decade of soaring economic growth and corporate expansion overseas has put Spain in the big leagues, but the country’s political profile is shrinking under the leadership of a man deeply preoccupied with domestic reform and lacking in international experience.
“He is not there. It’s as if he were not interested,” says José María de Areilza, a former foreign-policy adviser to Zapatero’s predecessor José María Aznar.
“This is a media-driven world, and you have to stay in the picture.”
Zapatero leaves it to other heads of state to clock up the air miles, receiving far more official visits than he makes. Though broadly liked, diplomats say, he has annoyed a handful of foreign capitals – most recently Tokyo – by repeatedly postponing visits or cutting them short.
In the first seven months of the year, he was visited by nearly 20 foreign leaders, plus Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary general; Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state; and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, who had just become Middle East envoy. For Zapatero’s part, he traveled a few times to Brussels and Berlin, and visited Poland, Mexico and Panama.
Charles Grant, head of the Center for European Reform, a think tank based in London, says the decline in Spain’s influence on Zapatero’s watch has been “astonishing.”
During the governments of the Socialist prime minister Felipe González and the conservative Aznar, who followed him, Spain punched above its weight, he says. But despite a team of respected diplomats, like Miguel Ángel Moratinos, Spain’s current foreign minister, and Alberto Navarro, the secretary of state for European affairs, “Spain is not one of the key players who decides what happens” in Europe.
“The way the EU works, the prime minister is very important,” Grant says.
Zapatero’s limited language skills and a career in domestic politics go some way to explaining his low international profile. The 47-year-old prime minister won his first seat as a Socialist deputy in 1986 and is fluent only in Spanish.
But it is also a question of priorities. Since he came to power in April 2004, Zapatero has been consumed by domestic politics: his attempts to broker peace with the violent Basque separatist group ETA, and a series of social and political reforms.
Some of Zapatero’s supporters say he pulled in Spain’s horns partly to correct what they see as Aznar’s missteps. Aznar cultivated a close alliance with the United States at the expense of Spain’s relations with some European allies. He took Spain into the deeply unpopular war in Iraq, for which the country was punished by an Islamist bomb attack in March 2004 that cost 191 lives. Icarus-like, Spain flew too close to the sun of international influence and burned its wings.
Where Zapatero has put energy into foreign policy initiatives, he has chalked up some successes. The government’s commitment to engaging sub-Saharan Africa – where Spain has opened half a dozen new embassies in the past three years – has won plaudits from international officials and African leaders.
Zapatero deftly negotiated a generous allotment of EU development funds for Spain between 2007 and 2012, despite the country’s rising economic status. The government also won help from other European countries for Spain’s efforts to intercept migrant boats from Africa.
But Spain’s reluctance to allow its troops to deploy in the dangerous southwest of Afghanistan, where NATO forces are fighting the Taliban, has frustrated other members of the alliance. Spain has about 700 troops under NATO’s command in Afghanistan’s relatively stable western corner and some 1,100 in the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon.
The fact the government sells its overseas deployments as peacekeeping missions, rather than combat operations, has done little to strengthen the Spanish public’s weak stomach for military casualties.
Meanwhile, well-intentioned but nebulous initiatives like the Alliance of Civilizations are unlikely to yield concrete results in the short term, while Spain’s proposal last year for a new Middle East peace plan – announced as a joint initiative with France and Italy – seems to have been stillborn.
José Ignacio Torreblanca, an expert in foreign policy at the Royal Elcano Institute, a Madrid-based think tank, says Zapatero’s domestic efforts are diplomacy of a kind in that they are converting Spain into a reference for other countries. The ease with which Spain has absorbed Europe’s fastest-growing immigrant population, and laws that extend the rights of women and gays, have caught the eye of other European policy makers.
Some diplomats and analysts think Zapatero will start flapping his diplomatic wings in the run-up to the March general election, and concentrate more on the outside world if he is re-elected.
For Spain to make its mark, says Areilza, the former foreign-policy adviser, it needs a bigger, more effective foreign-affairs apparatus and a larger military budget so it can contribute meaningfully to overseas military and peacekeeping operations.
Zapatero will have to get stuck into some of the strategic debates that keep other European leaders awake at night, like Iran’s nuclear ambitions or how to handle Russia, says Grant of the Center for European Reform.
But Zapatero is not a Great Game diplomat.
“He’s not a Winston Churchill. He doesn’t feel comfortable in these strategic debates about that hard world out there,” says Torreblanca. Zapatero is most at ease in the role of listener and conciliator, who builds up his interlocutors’ support before convincing them they can give him what he needs and get what they need in the process.
Torreblanca says Zapatero sees international politics as a “non-zero-sum game,” one in which everyone can come out ahead: “Zapatero says, ‘Let’s make the cake bigger for everyone, and then I’ll get my piece at the end of it all.’ “