Spanish priorities for a re-definition or re-vitalisation of transatlantic relations

Elcano Royal Institute
According to the Spanish preponderant view, the three top priorities for a re-definition or re-vitalisation of the transatlantic and EU-US relationship would be:
a)       An effective and co-ordinated management of the global financial crisis.
b)       New approach to security and peace-building complementing military action with soft power tools in order to deal with new conflicts and their causes. In this context, Spain believes that the ‘Alliance of Civilizations’, proposed to the UN by Prime Minister Zapatero in 2005, could be a relevant instrument to defeat violence.
c)       A new US approach to efficient multilateralism beyond security affairs, especially with respect to the fight against climate change, the international law and cooperation in the fields of education, research and development.
Considering specifically the relationship between Spain and the US[1], we have to bear in mind that, during the Bush years, relations oscillated from warm (thanks to the unconditional support of the former conservative Prime Minister Aznar to the Iraq invasion) to cold (because of the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq when the socialist Prime Minister Zapatero was appointed in 2004). Nevertheless, Spain and the United States have maintained good relations during the last four years in defence, counter-terrorism, police and judicial cooperation and within NATO. In the economic realm, the situation is also very fluid particularly with regard to mutual foreign direct investment (FDI).
Nevertheless, the Spanish government is currently trying to reinvigorate and improve relations with the US. Taking into account the perspective of the Spanish EU Presidency during the first semester of 2010, transatlantic relations have been defined by Prime Minister Zapatero as “a priority task” for the Spain during its Presidency.[2] In this vein, the government is now defining a new agenda for relations with the Obama administration.[3] The Spanish government wants to reinvigorate the framework of the European Union to face international challenges such as the Iranian nuclear programme, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, or the relations with Russia. Other important issues, such as UN reform, post-Kyoto agreement (Copenhagen), the fight against poverty, or the reinforcement of the EU-US coordination toward Latin-America may be also included in the renewed Transatlantic Agenda that can be agreed by the EU-US summit to be held next 2010.[4]
It is true that a renewed partnership may be difficult to convert into tangible realities, and the EU – and particularly Spain – will find several difficulties in meeting US demands, for example with regard to troop deployments in Afghanistan. However, there are also many reasons to believe that the horizon looks bright for the transatlantic relations; not only for the EU in general but also for Spain in particular. Obama's priority to revive the economy and reform its regulatory framework, along with his pledge to achieve energy independence and rebuild the country's failing infrastructure, bodes well for Spain. Not only might Spain share the lessons of the regulatory experience that has kept its banks from collapsing, it might also – as one of the worlds leaders in the renewable energy sector – offer to create an energy independence alliance with the United States. Spain's construction companies – also world leaders in their own right, but now feeling the effects of a whopping hangover from their own bubble – would be willing and able to lend a hand in the rebuilding of U.S. infrastructure. Finally, Obama's proposal to create a new Partnership for Energy Security in the Western Hemisphere, and to send an Energy Corps of young engineers into Latin America, offers Zapatero the opportunity to suggest some tangible content for the kind of productive U.S.-Spanish collaboration in Latin America that Bush and former Prime Minister José María Aznar used to only dream about.[5]

[1] See Alicia Sorroza and David García Cantalapiedra, 2008, “Spain“, in: Transatlantic Relations 2009 European Expectations for the Post-Bush Era, ed. by Jan Techau and Alexander Skiba. EPIN Working Paper No. 20 / November 2008, available at: (last access: 30 March 2009). 

[2] See address by the Prime Minister Rodríguez Zapatero on the priorities of the 2010 Spanish EU Presidency on 12 February 2009 organised by the Asociación de Periodistas Europeos, available at: (last access: 30 March 2009).

[3] It is remarkable that 90% of Spaniards have a positive opinion of Obama’s election. Moreover, 70% believe there will be significant changes in US foreign policy and 70% also believe Obama’s election will be beneficial for Spain. See 19th wave of the Barometer of the Elcano Royal Institute (December 2008), available at: (last access: 30 March 2009).

[4] See Alicia Sorroza and David García Cantalapiedra, 2008 (ibidem).

[5] See “Don't ignore European economic powerhouse”, Paul Isbell, The Miami Herald, November 11, 2008.