European Affairs

Madrid Seeks a National Consensus on Foreign Policy     Print Email
Miguel Ángel Moratinos

Miguel Ángel MoratinosSince a new Socialist government took office in Spain in April 2004, the country's foreign policy has undergone a period of intense activity and reappraisal that is almost without precedent in recent decades. In a very short time, the Government has made far-reaching decisions and has started to express a new vision of Spain's role in Europe and the world, to which party leaders had given considerable time and thought during their years in opposition.

The Government came to power just a few weeks after the worst terrorist attack in Spanish history, the devastating bombing of the Madrid railroad system on March 11. Until then, the terrorism that had been a scourge on our society had originated within our borders.

The international dimension of the Madrid attacks, associated with the Al-Qaeda network, tragically added our capital city to the list of terrorist targets that have recently included New York, Casablanca, Istanbul and Bali. It follows, therefore, that the fight against terrorism is one of the main priorities of our foreign policy.

The Socialist Party has always maintained that the war in Iraq, far from being a positive contribution to the fight against terrorism, is actually counterproductive in the struggle against such a complex phenomenon. The intervention in Afghanistan, a training base for terrorist networks under the shelter of the Taliban regime, was quite different. In that case there was wide consensus in the international community on the need for firm action, endorsed by the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. The new government's rapid decisions to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq and to strengthen our country's presence in Afghanistan both had the same objective, namely to readjust the deployment of our troops abroad according to the real priorities in the fight against militant Islamic terrorism. Underlying these decisions was our strongly held conviction that only a profound respect for international law can provide the legitimacy needed to sustain the fight against this strategic threat.

The United Nations, for all its imperfections, remains the only institution that can confer legitimacy and authorize the use of force in the defense of international law. The difficulties experienced over Iraq provide clear proof of this. Spain has moved decisively to support effective multilateralism. The decision by the United States to narrow the gap between its policy and that of other members of the Security Council enabled the Council to adopt Resolution 1546, which endorsed the formation of an interim Iraqi government and the holding of elections by January 2005, and outlined the role of the United Nations in the political transition. Washington's move gives grounds for optimism that Transatlantic relations can be revitalized, as they must be, on the basis of respect, sincerity and loyalty among allies. Naturally, Spain seeks to maintain the closest possible relations with its U.S. ally. The challenge we face is to make the United Nations more dynamic and effective, if we want it to be respected by the international community.We are pleased that a Spaniard, Javier RupŽrez, has been named the first Executive Director of the recently strengthened UN Counter-Terrorism Committee.

When we decided to increase our presence in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, we also made changes in our domestic political procedures. From now on, the Government will always seek Parliament's approval before sending troops on peacekeeping operations. We are convinced that only the full support of our society, expressed through its elected representatives, can sustain the effort and the sacrifices required to meet our international responsibilities. The people of Spain need to understand the link between their everyday security and Spanish participation in missions abroad, which always entail a degree of risk.

When political parties are united in supporting our foreign and security policies, we are strong, whereas division makes us vulnerable. That is why the Government has called on the opposition to help rebuild a consensus in basic areas of our international policy. Such a consensus cannot merely be a return to the situation that existed in the 1990s because international circumstances have changed. In order for Spain to remain respected in the world, we cannot allow Spanish foreign policy to be subject to major variations each time the balance of governmental power changes. We call on the opposition's sense of national responsibility to recognize this reality and to agree on some basic principles that would give continuity to our international presence. This consensus should be built in Parliament, the center of Spanish political life, following an open debate among all Spaniards. Although we did not support the war in Iraq, we are fully aware of the need to support stability in that country during its complex transition process. The Spanish Government has established three lines of action: to play a constructive role at the United Nations, as evidenced in the negotiations to approve Resolution 1546; to maintain the considerable financial assistance program that Spain has already undertaken; and, through active diplomacy, to encourage Iraq's neighbors to cooperate in the country's stabilization.

Another fundamental priority of Spanish foreign policy has been to return to the heart of Europe. In recent months, we have re-established a constructive dialogue with France and Germany. We have also consolidated our relations with Portugal, and we wish to continue to collaborate closely with the United Kingdom, including on all issues concerning Gibraltar. Together with our EU partners, we are restoring a climate of normality in relations between the European Union and the United States.

In Europe, the most outstanding achievement has undoubtedly been approval of a proposed constitution that will allow the European Union to become a political community based on solidarity and common values. The constitutional treaty agreed in June 2004, after months of arduous negotiations, is an innovative and balanced document. From our point of view, we are particularly pleased that, inter alia, it explicitly recognizes the value of all the languages of Spain, including Catalan and Basque, and consolidates the future of the Canary Islands within the framework of the European Union. The Government wants Spain to be one of the first member states to ratify the constitution. After consultations with all political forces, a referendum will be called in the coming months to give the population the chance to reaffirm its European commitment. The choice of individuals to head the leading European institutions has greatly favored the Spanish candidates. Javier Solana was confirmed by broad consensus to serve a second term as High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and will become the first Foreign Minister of the European Union, if the new constitution is ratified. JosŽ Borell has been elected President of the European Parliament. JosŽ Manuel Dur‹o Barroso, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, who will be the next President of the European Commission, is a good friend of Spain.

The appointments of Mr. Solana and Mr. Borrell are due mainly to their personal capabilities, but they can also be seen as an acknowledgement of the positive role played by Spain in the construction of Europe since its accession in 1986, to which successive governments have made their contributions. The future influence of Spain in Brussels will largely depend on the country's ability to develop a concept of Europe in which the defense of national interests can be incorporated into a framework of integration. This is another reason why it is so important to achieve a united front among the nation's leading political forces, particularly in the light of the forthcoming negotiations on a new financial outline for the EU budget.

The European Union has recently been wholly engaged in major internal challenges: monetary union, ment and the European constitution. The Spanish Government thinks the time has come for Europe to look beyond its frontiers and to prioritize external challenges, beginning with its immediate surroundings. A common foreign policy will gain credibility only if it becomes operational in relations with the European Union's neighbors to the East and in the Southern Mediterranean. For this reason we shall be spearheading the Union's "New Neighbors initiative and seeking to make Europe's voice heard in efforts to restore the Middle East peace process. Spain also seeks to implement a comprehensive vision of relations with the Maghreb countries (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) that goes beyond traditional alliances with individual states. We wish to promote close relations with these neighboring countries, so that we can together tackle international challenges such as terrorism, the management of migration flows and the building of a region of co-prosperity that fulfils the legitimate political and economic ambitions of citizens, especially young people, on both sides of the Mediterranean.We must make the most of the fact that our economies are complementary.

A basic condition of achieving these objectives is to strengthen the Euro- Mediterranean partnership and advance the Maghreb integration process, which has been held up mainly by the Western Sahara conflict. Thirty years of recent history prove that we cannot impose a solution to this conflict in which there are victors and vanquished. Spain has accordingly decided to abandon a policy of passive neutrality and adopt one of active diplomacy. The aim is to foster dialogue between the parties and countries concerned, led by the United Nations, in the hope of finding a fair and definitive solution that respects international law and the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people.

The government will also give a high priority to Ibero-America (the group composed of Spain, Portugal and the Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries of Latin America). In recent years our family ties have become stronger thanks to investment by Spanish companies on the other side of the Atlantic and to immigration from those countries. Our aim is that this growing interdependency should go hand in hand with closer political links in our bilateral relations. This will involve more frequent visits to Latin America by Spanish leaders, stepped-up bilateral contacts and greater convergence on major international issues. A recent example of such convergence was the common position adopted by Ibero-American members of the Security Council during the negotiation of Resolution 1546. Another expression of our commitment to the region is Spain's contribution, together with Brazil, Argentina, Chile and other countries, to peacekeeping operations in Haiti. In the multilateral sphere, we will do our utmost to make the recently established. General Secretariat of the Ibero-American summits an effective instrument for promoting our common political agenda.

Spain has also started to reinforce its presence in Sub-Saharan Africa by developing a policy for enhanced cooperation, and by tackling important issues of mutual interest, such as migration and terrorism, with African countries. In Asia, the government intends to pursue a more active foreign policy toward such countries as China, India and Japan, among others.

One of the hallmarks of our government will be a focus on human rights, social cohesion, the fight against hunger and poverty, and efforts to end the exclusion of the poorest and least advantaged from modern society. In this context, we are resuming a dialogue with representatives of civil society to improve the effectiveness of our foreign assistance and cooperation policies and to guarantee the best use of resources provided by the Spanish taxpayer for foreign development. We are also seeking the best possible coordination with our European partners and with international development agencies. As all this demonstrates, we have undertaken a large number of difficult but essential foreign policy commitments in a very short time. We were not able to enjoy the traditional 100 days grace period usually accorded a new Government to develop its initial policies. Now is perhaps the time to establish the calm atmosphere we need in order to reach agreement with the opposition on national foreign policy priorities that we can all support.


Miguel Ángel Moratinos is Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain. Before joining his country's new Socialist government, he was the European Union's Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process. A career diplomat, he has served as Ambassador to Israel, Director General of Foreign Policy for Africa and the Middle East and Director General of the Institute for Cooperation with the Arab World.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number V, Issue number III in the Fall of 2004.