Spanish and Polish leadership in rebooting European foreign policy

A public discussion and debate on the future of Europe’s foreign and security policy.


Enrique Mora Benavente, Political Director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain

Jarosław Bratkiewicz, Political Director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland

Piotr Buras, Head of ECFR Warsaw Office

Marcin Zaborowski, Director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs

Francisco de Borja Lasheras, Associate Director of ECFR Madrid

Chaired by

Cristina Manzano, Director of Esglobal

Europe needs a more dynamic foreign policy, and new dynamics for its foreign policy as well as the ultimate project of European integration. The time is maybe ripe for the most unlikely of relationships to take seed. In this regard, last week we witnessed how Spain and Poland’s strategic partnership could blossom, giving new impetus for the Neighbourhood Policy, European security cooperation overall (through CSDP and NATO) as well as the project of Energy Union.

Following a joint event last December with the Spanish Embassy in Warsaw, which saw the launching of the project of East-South European Strategic Convergence, ECFR Madrid, in conjunction with the Polish Embassy in Madrid, organized an intensive two day program with senior diplomatic officials facilitating a hands-off dialogue among both governments on the abovementioned topics.

The centrepiece of the two days was a public event at the Hotel Radisson Blue del Prado. Here, an audience eagerly took to their seats to listen to two governments and think-tankers discuss collaboration in a talk entitled, “Unravelling regional order, reshaping alliances: Spanish and Polish leadership in rebooting foreign policy”. The need for a new dynamism in Europe’s ailing foreign policy calls for a strengthening of bilateral and minilateral relations between member states, through practical variable geometries, to compliment the top-down approach emanating from Brussels. The similarities between Poland and Spain (in terms of size, weight within the EU, both being part of the Big Six caucus, etc.) and mutual support on European affairs, coupled with a stronger alignment of foreign policy visions, could be a galvanizing force for rebooting of Europe’s role in the world. This is necessary in a context of rising challenges East, South and beyond.

Yet the very different nature of the immediate foreign policy challenges and geo-strategic positions of Poland and Spain, as well as among other EU countries, can also act as a barrier to resilient, impactful common positions, as we are seeing in different stages of the crisis of Ukraine or the crises in the Middle East, such as Syria. There is an ongoing re-nationalisation of foreign policy in Europe which makes the task of defining common interests and setting priorities all the more challenging national governments are reconsidering their security policies in light of increasing threats across the board. Diverging attitudes towards US and NATO leadership, the escalation of sanctions and the arming of Ukraine’s battered army will test European cohesion on a grand scale and could lead to further European political and security fragmentation. Seeing eye to eye in such difficult scenarios is challenging, but not impossible, as we have seen in the cohesive implementation of sanctions against Russia which, though with varying economic repercussions on member states, have impacted upon Russia’s economy on a scale that should not be underestimated. Europe’s united response here must form a precedent as the continent increasingly finds in a situation where choosing its battles is no longer an option.

Earlier in the afternoon, these issues were addressed and others outlined in a Chatham House discussion on Spanish-Polish synergies in the European Neighbourhood, with senior diplomats from both governments and experts. Both countries understand themselves to be front line states in Europe and agree that current frameworks to address the conflicts in their immediate surroundings are insufficient. A principle of differentiation is required with respect to Europe’s neighbours, as each articulates different demands regarding their relation with Europe, ones which require tailor-made responses. Notions of the transformative power of the EU and of the eventual modernisation of its neighbours which underpin the current Neighbourhood Policy must be revisited, articulating clear priorities. In order to achieve a greater, practical strategic convergence, more synergies must be explored between both countries, East and South of borders which need to be perceived as subject to common threats. This is a topic which goes beyond the ENP proper and spans to cooperation in security and defence, through CSDP and also within NATO, in the wake of the Wales Summit and the Readiness Action Plan, now under discussion. The “hardcore” security questions were explored in a high level dinner with Spanish and Polish officials, hosted by the Polish Embassy.

A certain convergence between Poland and Spain exists on the issue of Europe’s energy union, explored in a Chatham House breakfast the following morning that aimed to find common ground and assess joint proposals for the next European Council meeting. Representatives from both countries agreed that the need for a cooperation scenario between the EU and regional level was paramount as the lack of solidarity mechanisms between member states renders Europe wholly incapable of responding to a stress test scenario. The interconnectivity target must be worked towards to free Spain of its position as an energy island and to enable countries to diversify energy sources and simultaneously improve Europe’s security. A successful internal market will require the construction of infrastructure between member states, transparent energy contracts in compliance with Europe’s interests, and strategic regulation. Though, as seen in the domain of foreign policy, Poland and Spain have different immediate needs, their end goal is shared and must be advocated by means of a bilateral relationship that undoubtedly contributes to the European project.