SPANISH president Pedro Sánchez has warned his British counterpart Theresa May that if she wants to extend the deadline for Brexit, she needs to have a clear plan. “You can’t go forward by going around in circles;...
Spain’s political challenges for 2019: Brexit, refugees, climate change…
GENERAL elections aside, Spain’s role on the global political stage is set to be more crucial than ever in 2019 – and, especially in terms of its membership of the European Union, the country will be ‘very much in demand’.
This week, the Royal Elcano Institute presented its seventh annual report coordinated by political scientist Ignacio Molina, Spain in the world in 2019: Perspectives and challenges.
“Spain needs to accept that it is one of the largest countries in the EU and among those with the greatest diplomatic capacity, and will need to accept its responsibilities,” Molina writes.
“There is going to be a great demand for more and more of Spain.”
But what does this mean for Spain?
Firstly, according to the report, 2018 was a particularly turbulent political year within and outside Spain’s borders – in the case of the latter, with the Catalunya separatist issue ongoing, and having finally reached the trial stage in the Supreme Court, and also, the socialist government’s ‘Parliamentary weakness’, given its very slim majority of less than a quarter of seats, meaning it has been potentially held back by the ever-present possibility of its initiatives being voted down by the opposition and curtailing its ability to ‘take on a greater international presence.
But current president Pedro Sánchez and his foreign affairs minister, Catalunya-born Josep Borrell, ‘are showing a greater inclination than their predecessors towards diplomatic activism’, speaking out against world inequality, being more proactive – especially in the face of Brexit, Donald Trump and the refugee crisis, for which Spain has been upheld as an excellent example of cooperation – and refusing to be shrinking violets.
Concerning the former, or political challenges of 2018 outside Spain’s borders, the year will ‘not be remembered as historical’ for the European Union, Molina believes, due to the ‘erosion of [French president] Emmanuel Macron’s popularity’ due to the ‘yellow jacket’ protests, the continuing rise of the far-right on the continent, and the announced future departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but 2019 will see two major changes: Brexit, due to happen at midnight on March 29, and the five-year MEP elections on May 26.
Tricky times: Brexit and European Parliamentary elections
Spanish MEPs will, as a result of all this, be ‘fundamental actors in making international decisions’, Molina writes.
“For Spain, the best possible outcome would be if Brexit did not happen or, at least, that its economic impact were minimal, but whether or not a no-deal Brexit takes place, damage-limitation preparations across the EU are already in place; additionally, the Gibraltar situation should be closely and continually monitored,” according to the report.
Spanish president Pedro Sánchez announced a battery of measures at the beginning of this year which would be immediately triggered in the event of a no-deal Brexit, protecting the rights of British nationals living in the country, including residence, work and healthcare – although he has no real influence over the fate of Spanish nationals living in the UK, which lies in the hands of the British government.
All this could be jeopardised by the snap general election called for April 28 after Sánchez’s Parliamentary minority meant he failed to drum up support for what he calls ‘the most socially-friendly budget ever’, unless he regains power, strengthening his mandate, either – as looks unlikely – with a clear outright majority, or in coalition with other left-wing or centrist parties.
Climate change and Donald Trump
The Elcano Institute report says the ‘erratic administration’ of US president Donald Trump and the overall management of the White House is ‘another international conflict which Spain will continue to grapple with’ in 2019.
“[Trump’s administration] will continue creating turbulence in international security as a result of commercial tensions with China and a clash of policies with the European Union, and whichever government emerges from [Spain’s] national elections will have to face up to a convulsive year, the dénouement of which is likely to be unexpected and unpredictable,” the annual report considers.
Spain’s commitment to the ‘multilateral approach’ and ‘values’ that the United Nations ‘originates from’ is highly praised in the report, and this is ‘reflected in the Agenda 2030 of Sustainable Development Objectives’, or Spain’s role in reducing damage to the environment, especially by curbing air pollution and fighting climate change.
Short-term, climate change has been cited as one of the main worldwide political concerns and as something that the people of Spain are particularly worried about, according to a survey carried out by Elcano in December.
“This year  will be a key year in terms of heightened ambition in combating global warming, although this does not necessarily mean it will bring great changes unless some of the world’s greatest powers, such as China and the USA, do not become involved, Molina warns.
Spain ‘a great example to Europe’ in refugee aid
The global refugee issue, particularly that affecting Europe, is one that Spain has plunged in head-first with compassion and practicality, earning it the highest-possible praise from the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.
“Spain continues to be a great example for the European model and in complying with Europe’s moral duties,” says the Cypriot.
He stresses that Europe has been the greatest aid donor, although reveals that the continent’s efforts cost just €4 per year to each of its citizens – and that EU member States are ‘very divided’ concerning migrants and refugees.
But there is ‘no dilemma’ for the bloc’s leaders insofar as it has a duty to comply with international agreements, such as the Geneva Convention on asylum seekers, signed by almost every country in the world in 1955 and from which no nation has as yet withdrawn.
According to figures quoted by Stylianides, every day in 2018, six people died in the Mediterranean through drowning as they attempted to enter Europe, either to escape war, conflict, persecution, torture, death and other danger, or simply to get away from poverty and seek out a better life than the intolerable conditions they were living in.
The number of migrants reaching Europe by sea rose by 200% in January alone, reaching a total of 4,104 in one month, or more than 132 per day.
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