Spain's Pedro Sanchez has been touring Europe lately. Here's whyComments
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has been busy touring Europe in recent weeks to prepare for his country taking on the presidency of the European Union over the summer.
The aim of these mini-tours, according to analysts, is to maintain unity among the 27 countries of the bloc at a time when it is increasingly under strain because of diverging views over how to deal with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the continent’s greatest crisis since the Second World War.
This is particularly crucial as Europe seeks to forge greater autonomy from the US, Russia and China, a topic Spain is keen to make strides in during its six months at the helm of the EU Council.
During a visit to Ireland last week as part of his five European trips, Sánchez said: “Europe suffers from an excessive dependence on certain countries in the world.”
He did not mention Russia or China but the remark was taken by observers to mean these two superpowers.
Carlos Cúe, of the Spanish newspaper El País who was in Ireland with Sánchez wrote: “We saw during the pandemic that Europe had practically all its production, including masks, in China. And during the (Ukraine) war, we have seen the enormous dependency on Russian gas and decisive products like fertilizers.”
“Sánchez is looking during the Spanish presidency to make progress in major deals for the reindustrialisation of Europe, using EU funds.”
Ignacio Molina, an expert in Spanish foreign policy at the Real Instituto Elcano, a think tank in Madrid, shares the analysis.
“Spain needs to forge a policy of ‘strategic autonomy’ for the EU which means independence from the United States, Russia and China,” he told Euronews.
“During the pandemic, the EU depended on China for masks, now it depends on Russia for energy and has been dependent on the United States economically.”
Molina said Sánchez said last month that the EU should seek more independence by producing its own microchips, medical supplies and renewable energy.
Spain, France and Portugal last year sealed a deal to build a pipeline between Barcelona and Marseille – dubbed BarMar – to carry mostly green hydrogen to the rest of Europe.
“This is one example of this self-sufficiency. But at the same time, the EU does not want to be seen as protectionist,” Molina stressed.
But forging closer links between Brussels and Latin America, the Caribbean and other Mediterranean countries will also be an important part of Spain's policy in that area, commentators said.
Spain hopes this will bear fruit in an EU conference with countries from Latin America in Brussels between 17-18 July.
A pro-European country
Spain will also try to reach a new deal on the thorny subjects of immigration and asylum as Europe faces a new crisis with thousands of Ukrainians forced to flee their own country. Migration from Africa and other countries outside Europe towards the ‘old continent’ remains a major issue.
Sánchez will be keen to try to overcome the division between countries in southern Europe like Spain, Italy and Greece and countries in northern Europe like Germany, the Netherlands, France and also Britain which are the countries that many migrants head for.
European fiscal reform will be another key policy that Spain will push but this may prove difficult at a time of rising inflation levels across the continent.
José Manuel Albares, the Spanish Foreign Minister, told a briefing of ambassadors in Madrid last September that fiscal policy must not increase inflation but stressed that “Europe-wide fiscal rules need a reform.”
The presidency of the EU may prove important on the domestic front for Sánchez as he faces important regional and local elections in May and a general election probably in December.
The Spanish Prime Minister will be keen to use the EU presidency to show his command of statesmanship, said Cúe.
Since Sánchez came to power in 2018, he has broadened Spain's international profile, partly helped by his command of English and French.
Spaniards are fiercely pro-European, according to a series of polls, but at a time of a mounting cost of living crisis, it remains to be seen how interested they will be in the Socialist leader’s diplomatic skills.
In total, 22 meetings are planned in cities across Spain during the latter part of this year as Madrid hosts its European partners.
The biggest showpiece of the Spanish presidency will be an international conference in Granada planned for autumn.