Model, partner, rival

Germany was a model for the post-Franco rebuilding of Spanish democracy, and for a time was perhaps Spain’s most important ever partner. The switch to rivalry in recent years, and Spain’s failure to support Germany while it struggled with the financial implications of reunification, has meant that Madrid’s erstwhile allies in Berlin are distant at this hour of crisis.

Jose Ignacio Torreblanca

The article originally appeared in El Pais (Spanish).

During Spain’s transition to democracy after Franco’s death, Germany was the model for our political overhaul. This is why our regional government system so much resembles the German federal structure. Our “social contract,” too, which combines an open-market economy with an advanced welfare state, is of German inspiration. Even the official role our Constitution accords to employers’ associations and labor unions stems from the model of “Renanian” capitalism. Likewise our Europeanism, a substitution of Spanish nationalism by European patriotism, has much to do with the internationalist path walked by the foreign policy of Germany — a land where the link between nationalism and authoritarianism has also left a deep imprint. Nor is it hard to see the analogy between widespread pacifist feeling in Spain and in Germany, both in response to a past militarism which brought tragic consequences.Well known, too, is the role played by German political parties in the foundation of Spanish ones.

The result of all this is that, unlike the French or the British, who can strut their national pride without inhibitions, the Spanish and the Germans have been obliged to look at their national interests through the prism of European  integration. There, if you wished to be a good German, first you had to be a good European; here, the European banner in which we have wrapped ourselves has mitigated our severe identity problems.

From a model, Germany went on to be a partner, perhaps the most important Spain has ever had. Felipe González intuited that it was easier to slip into the Franco-German axis by the (German) window than by the (French) door. There were numerous affinities between Germany and Spain, and no nagging bilateral problems (such as Gibraltar with London, or agriculture and terrorism with Paris). The partners respected and supported one another, so much so that their interests overlapped. González supported Kohl on the deployment of euro- missiles in Germany; Kohl supported Spain’s entry in the European Community. González offered the chancellor his unconditional support at the time of German Reunification and monetary union; in exchange Kohl agreed to a significant increase in EU structural and cohesion funds for Spain, and to the inclusion of European citizenship in the Treaty of Maastricht. Spain supported Germany in the process of EU enlargement toward the East; Germany agreed to finance the EU’s new, Spain-headed Mediterranean policy.

But symbiosis turned to rivalry, coinciding with Schröder and Aznar. Schröder looked to the United Kingdom, hoping to seduce Blair with his “new center” proposal, whose liberal tones might well have appealed to the Spanish Popular Party. But Germany was bogged down by the financial effort of reunification, and in consequence, attempting to rid itself of the commitment to be the bottomless purse of European integration. “Europe is when everybody gets together and agrees, and Germany pays,” went the joke. But instead of supporting Germany in difficulties, especially when Spain was booming, we made the mistake of tightening the screws in the European budget negotiations and, what is worse, flaunting it with public lectures on economic reforms, as did Aznar. A Die Zeit article about Aznar, titled “The fastidious European,” opened a crack, and the solidarity between the two nations began to trickle away. The conceited arrogance of Aznar was followed by the passivity of Zapatero, who has done nothing to rebuild the German link.

Spain has been far from Germany for too long. Now the consequences are visible to all: the euro is on the verge of collapse and the political and psychological bridges between Madrid and Berlin are broken. We keep waving our arms, but we don’t show up on their radar. We urgently need a reorientation of our diplomacy toward Berlin, which is where our country’s near future is at stake.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow

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