Eurasia Review: Sánchez Must Snatch The Economic Vice-Presidency For Spain – Analysis

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By Miguel Otero-Iglesias and Ilke Toygür*

Spain deserves a top job in the
EU and Pedro Sánchez is determined to get it. For a country that is
strongly pro-European and the fifth-largest (fourth, if Britain quits)
economy in the Union, it is embarrassingly underrepresented. Since
Javier Solana and Joaquín Almunia left Brussels, Spain has not had a
high-profile politician in the European capital. At the depth of the
crisis it even lost its seat on the European Central Bank (ECB)
Executive Board with the departure of José Manuel González-Páramo, a
loss only reversed in June 2018 with the arrival of Luis de Guindos.

The comparison with Italy is striking. Italians currently
hold the Presidency of the ECB (Mario Draghi) and the EP (Antonio
Tajani), and include the High Representative for Foreign Affairs
(Federica Mogherini) and the head of the ECB Single Supervisory Board
(Andrea Enria). That is quite a prize for a country that in recent times
has shown very little enthusiasm for the European integration project.

Sánchez should play his cards wisely this time. After his
good results in the last national and European elections (with 33%
support in the latter, which translates into 20 MEPs) he has become the de facto leader
of Social Democracy in Europe and, consequently, the chief negotiator
of the Party of European Socialists (PES) for the Top Jobs. Therefore,
the question is to know what Pedro Sánchez will do with his
newly-acquired power.

There has been much speculation that Sánchez will side with
Emmanuel Macron in trying to isolate Manfred Weber and the European
People’s Party (EPP) and seek an alternative candidate. Sánchez is
certainly keen to have a more progressive Commission, but it is not
entirely certain that he will spend all his political capital on it.
Ultimately, he knows that the CDU/CSU is an indispensable force to get
things done in Europe. Hence, for Sánchez it is important to gain the
trust of both Macron and Merkel.

The three constitute the sides of a double triangle. They
are the leaders of Germany, France and Spain, the three biggest
pro-integrationist countries and at the same time the de facto leaders
of the EPP, S&D and ALDE. Under this configuration, Sánchez will
defend the candidacy of Frans Timmermans, the socialist candidate, but
also the Spitzenkandidaten method. There is strong backing in
Spain for the latter process since it strengthens the power of the
European Parliament, the main engine for an ever-closer union, and
Spain’s mainstream parties are well represented in the key families.

If Timmermans ultimately fails to get the top job, Sánchez
would be content with both Weber and Vestager as alternatives. Many
believe that as Spain has no strong candidates for either the Commission
or Council Presidencies, Sánchez will aim for the High Rep position and
place his current Foreign Minister, and former EP President, Josep
Borell, there. But this is not so clear. The feeling in Madrid is that
the High Rep does not have enough influence in the Commission.
Travelling leads to too many absences and, furthermore, when there is a
significant foreign crisis, as in Syria or Libya, national Foreign
Ministers of the big member states still call the shots.

For Spain, and for this government in particular, the
biggest priority is deepening the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU)
–which is seen as the core of the European project– so it is conceivable
that Sánchez will forgo a Top Job for a Spaniard as long as he can
snatch the Vice-presidency of the Commission in charge of economic and
financial affairs. He is also likely to insist that the Vice-presidency
be the first and cover all key DGs in the area, from the budget (DG
BUDG) and fiscal issues (DG TAXUD) to economic governance (DG ECFIN and
FISMA), trade (DG Trade) and industrial policy (DG Grow). In an era of
geostrategic competition, this will become a powerful post.

Josep Borrell, one of the most respected politicians in
Spain, with a PhD in economics and a strategic mind, could be a very
suitable candidate for the position. The only problem is that he might
be considered too heterodox by some of the northern countries. Should
that be the case, Sánchez has another card up his sleeve: Nadia Calviño.
The current Minister of Economy and former Director General for Budgets
(DG Budget) has an excellent reputation in Brussels. She combines both
determination for fiscal rectitude, sensitivity for social cohesion and
zeal for competitiveness in a globalised world.

Apart from securing this strong Vice-presidency, Spain is
also keen to have a greater presence and influence on the second-tier
levels of Europe’s institutions. Getting the job of Secretary-General of
the European Commission if Martin Selmayr finally needs to go would be
an attractive proposition too. The next Spanish government will also
make a strong effort to have Spanish officials in the cabinets of all
the Presidencies of the three institutions and of key commissioners and
in all the DGs and their units. The determination in Madrid is that
influence needs to be built from the bottom up. Last but not least,
Iratxe García, as a possible leader of the S&D Group, should be
added to the list of persons of influence.

Ultimately, it is important to underline that Sánchez will not only seek influential posts but also insist on inserting progressive items on the legislation agenda. Although the priority will be EMU reform, more papers might be coming from Madrid focusing on strengthening the Union’s social pillar, developing a new green deal, designing a European industrial and innovation policy, strengthening the single market, generating a true ‘level playing field’ in global trade, better managing migration flows from Africa and increasing the EU’s capabilities in foreign affairs and defence. Should this come to pass, Spain would finally move from being mostly a passive to an active player in the EU.

*About the authors:

  • Miguel Otero-Iglesias, Senior Analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute and Professor at IE School of Global and Public Affairs | @miotei
  • Ilke Toygür, Analyst, Elcano Royal Institute | @ilketoygur

Source: This article was published by Elcano Royal Institute

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