An Article by Javier Solana, President of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics, for El País, published at "The Guardian" on March 29, 2011
Our role as a bridge between Europe and Latin America fortifies the EU in a rapidly globalising world
Any discussion of Spain's perspective on globalisation must recognise the transformation the country has undergone since parliamentary democracy was restored after the death of General Franco, in 1975.
When the constitution was approved by parliament and ratified by the people in 1978, Spain sealed a complex process of transition and built the foundations of its democracy. This allowed the country to emerge from its isolation during the 36-year dictatorship and gradually incorporate itself within the international community.
In 1977 it ratified the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and joined the Council of Europe, and in 1982 became part of Nato. But the high point of this historic series of events was undoubtedly Spain's entry into the European Economic Community in 1986 – or, as El País put it in its first edition that year, "the reaffirmation of a European destiny that we must never abandon". This was the same destiny we aspired to for the eastern European countries in 2004 because, for Spaniards, Europe is the incarnation of the fundamental values of liberty, progress and modernity.
From the moment we joined the EEC, the European vision became an integral part of our identity, and our foreign policy could no longer be contemplated in isolation. On trade agreements, climate change and nuclear proliferation, we show our clear support for multilateralism, international law and international institutions.
This evolution wasn't all one way, however: Spain's dual identity – European and Latin American – not only allowed the country to position itself as a bridge between both continents but also to expand its international profile and influence. Its Mediterranean identity meant that it could host crucial initiatives such as the Madrid Middle East peace conference in 1991, and the first Euro-Mediterranean conference, held in Barcelona in 1995 during Spain's presidency of the Council of Europe.
On economic matters, the union helped us transform ourselves and become more dynamic: we opened up our economy; we strove for European standards; we improved our infrastructures; we modernised our industries; and we put in place policies to boost productivity and competitiveness. But the strength of the euro had its downside, with the lowering of interest rates and the boom in the property market, which led to unsustainable growth and put off the structural economic reforms that were so necessary.
Spain is at present in the midst of a series of profound reforms – cutting the public deficit, reforming the labour market, the pensions system and the savings banks – designed to rebalance the economy, drive growth and return to being competitive again. If we plough on with the task of restructuring our economic activity, the country will emerge from the crisis ready to face the challenges of the 21st century.
We have only to look back to feel proud of what we have achieved and confident of what we still can achieve. Faith in the collective project of the EU could not be more important than it is now, as we face problems that call for global solutions and an increasingly globalised, complex and interdependent world in which our watchwords must be multilateralism and dialogue.
Spain's determination to energise the Mediterranean and push for reforms could not make more sense than at this moment, when people in the Arab countries are calling for dignity, respect and democracy. Similarly, its Ibero-American programmes could not be more pertinent at a time when Latin America is taking off, with Brazil leading the way. Spain is the principal EU investor in Latin America and the Caribbean, and second only to the US worldwide. The main Spanish companies operating in Latin America – Teléfonica, oil and gas group Repsol-Ypf, power utility Iberdrola, and banks Santander and BBVA – have been effective and profitable in these times of profound economic crisis.
There's little doubt that one of the consequences of globalisation is the theoretical and practical redefining of national interests. But globalisation is also about strengthening and extending international co-operation. In both areas Spain has shown that it knows how to do its homework, and that it carries on striving to keep pace on an international stage characterised by rapid change and intense competition.