1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

Spaniards against EU’s sanctions but with a very poor image of both Russia and Putin

Fol­low­ing last year’s trends, there are divid­ed opin­ions about bilat­er­al rela­tions with a coun­try such as Rus­sia. On the one hand, the Span­ish Gov­ern­ment, and par­tic­u­lar­ly its MFA, José Manuel Gar­cía-Mar­gal­lo, has a favourable opin­ion of the coun­try and tends to under­line the impor­tance of hav­ing good rela­tions with it and its leader, Vladimir Putin. Gar­cía-Mar­gal­lo him­self, in 2015, has trav­elled to Moscow and host­ed the Russ­ian vice min­is­ter for for­eign affairs in Madrid.

How­ev­er, on the occa­sion of the annex­a­tion of Crimea in 2014, the Span­ish Gov­ern­ment stood firm­ly against Russia’s vio­la­tion of inter­na­tion­al law. There is a strong con­sen­sus across the Span­ish polit­i­cal spec­trum that this kind of behav­iour is very neg­a­tive to the glob­al governance.

On the oth­er hand, opin­ion polls show us that Spaniards have an unfavourable image of both the coun­try and Putin. Accord­ing to the Pew Research Cen­ter (Spring 2015 Glob­al Atti­tudes sur­vey), Spaniards lead the rank­ing of lack of con­fi­dence in Putin: 92 % of Spaniards have no con­fi­dence in him, while only 6 % have con­fi­dence in the Russ­ian leader. Sim­i­lar­ly, in the 36th wave of the Elcano Barom­e­ter (May 2015), Putin obtained a punc­tu­a­tion of 2.9 out of 10, far away from oth­er inter­na­tion­al lead­ers such as François Hol­lande, with a 5.2, Barack Oba­ma, with a 6.1 or Pope Fran­cis, the best val­ued, reach­ing a 7.2 out of 10. In the same study, Rus­sia finds itself with a 4.1 out of 10, worse than Ger­many (6.2), the US (6.1), Italy (5.3), Chi­na (5.2), or Greece (4.5).

The major­i­ty of Spaniards (59 %) con­sid­er Rus­sia as respon­si­ble for the war in Ukraine. Notwith­stand­ing this, only 10 % of them believe that the EU should sanc­tion Rus­sia, accord­ing to the afore­men­tioned barom­e­ter. This posi­tion against EU sanc­tions and in favour of an arbi­tra­tion between Rus­sia and Ukraine is also broad­ly shared by the Span­ish Gov­ern­ment, who, para­dox­i­cal­ly, has pre­ferred to fol­low the Euro­pean path and build on an exist­ing con­sen­sus that could even harm its own econ­o­my. Moscow is con­sid­ered a key part­ner in tourism (in 2013 Spain was the main Euro­pean des­ti­na­tion for Russ­ian tourists) and is also very impor­tant regard­ing exports of food and agri­cul­ture (heav­i­ly hit by the Russ­ian embar­go in August 2014).


More engagement with Eastern Partnership countries

The Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy (ENP) is com­posed of two ele­ments: the South­ern Neigh­bour­hood (where for obvi­ous geo­graph­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal rea­sons Spain has always sit­u­at­ed its focus) and the East­ern Part­ner­ship. In a recent non-paper (Novem­ber 2014) pro­posed to the Com­mis­sion by a num­ber of coun­tries includ­ing Spain, Italy, Greece, Por­tu­gal, Slove­nia, and France, it is con­sid­ered that the ENP should remain a sin­gle pol­i­cy main­tain­ing the same instru­ments for the two dimen­sions afore­men­tioned. At the same time, the doc­u­ment applies for the need “to work towards mutu­al­ly accept­able objec­tives based on com­mon inter­ests” (of both EU coun­tries and our neigh­bour partners).

The cri­sis in Ukraine and the events that have tak­en place since have oblig­ed Spain to increase its engage­ment in the region. Spain, which now holds a non-per­ma­nent seat in the UN Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil for the peri­od 2015–2016, con­sid­ers that Russia’s con­cerns have to be more seri­ous­ly tak­en into account when the EU nego­ti­ates with East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries. There­fore, it has tried to nuance the EU’s posi­tion towards Rus­sia. At the same time, Spain con­sid­ers that the EU should only grant incen­tives to East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries if there is progress in the reforms required, which is not always the case.

In this trou­bled sce­nario, ener­gy issues are par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing for Spain. The Euro­pean Union as a whole is in need of nat­ur­al gas, which is most­ly import­ed from Rus­sia. Like­wise, Spain imports gas, but from Alge­ria and oth­er providers. If the so need­ed inter­con­nec­tions between Spain and France are pro­mot­ed, our coun­try could con­sol­i­date itself as an ener­gy hub. This seems more like­ly than ever, as the cre­ation of a so-called Ener­gy Union in the con­ti­nent is one of the pri­or­i­ties of the Euro­pean Commission.


An Eastern Partnership more divided than ever into two souls

The poor per­spec­tives before the East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit in Riga on 21/22 May 2015 were con­firmed when the meet­ing was over. As it was thought to hap­pen, no major or strate­gic steps were tak­en and nobody was entire­ly sat­is­fied. The rea­son for this to hap­pen was the neces­si­ty of a bal­ance between pleas­ing those coun­tries while still remain­ing cau­tious towards Russia.

But the most para­dox­i­cal issue was the clear dif­fer­ence between the group of coun­tries that favour clos­er inte­gra­tion with the EU (that is, Geor­gia, Moldo­va, and Ukraine, all of them hav­ing already signed asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments) and those which clear­ly want less inte­gra­tion and nev­er beyond punc­tu­al agree­ments on com­mer­cial and eco­nom­ic issues (Arme­nia, Azer­bai­jan, and Belarus).

Because of those dif­fer­ent approach­es, the nego­ti­a­tion with all the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries togeth­er does not look viable any­more. It is quite clear that for the years to come, the Euro­pean Union should come up with a new per­spec­tive in its East­ern pol­i­cy as a whole.


Far away from an EU army but keen on reinforcing a union of security and defence

Juncker’s state­ment on the need of a Euro­pean army to face Russia’s threat has brought again the ques­tion that comes and goes in the short his­to­ry of the EU: the need of a EU army. How­ev­er, the debate in Spain has not been whether this is desir­able or not, as it is com­mon­ly thought that by no means this is going to hap­pen in the next few years. Spain’s approach to this issue has been more in line with Javier Solana’s (for­mer EU’s High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy) report for the Brus­sels-based think tank, CEPS, titled “More Union in Euro­pean Defence”.

What is real­ly need­ed for the EU is to have a real for­eign pol­i­cy, which can­not work with­out a defence union. This defence union would not com­pete against NATO but be com­ple­men­tary with it. Some data will help under­stand the mea­sure of this Defence Union if it were to hap­pen: when added, the expen­di­ture of the 28 mem­ber states in defence bud­get becomes the sec­ond biggest in the world. That means that the Euro­pean Union could be the sec­ond mil­i­tary pow­er in the world if that defence union existed.

In any case, the Euro­pean Union still lacks a sin­gle voice in the inter­na­tion­al con­cert and that implies that there is no real inten­tion of hav­ing the so-need­ed Euro­pean Defence Union. The mere idea of an EU army is a utopia at the moment.


2. EU Enlargement

Against EU’s path for eastern neighbours

Spain has nev­er fore­seen a sce­nario with the mem­ber coun­tries of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood as mem­bers of the Euro­pean Union as a real pos­si­bil­i­ty. The Ukraine cri­sis, with the con­flict with Rus­sia, has only rein­forced Spain’s views on the ques­tion of enlarge­ment towards these coun­tries. That does not mean that Spain thinks there should not be close eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal ties between those coun­tries and the EU, but rather that the East­ern Part­ner­ship is not and should not be the first step towards an EU per­spec­tive for them.

In any case, not even all of the coun­tries that are part of the East­ern Part­ner­ship share the will of one day reach­ing the Euro­pean Union. In fact, Arme­nia, Azer­bai­jan, and Belarus are not com­fort­able with that prospect. Only Geor­gia, Moldo­va, and Ukraine desire to join the EU.

For Spain, enlarge­ment pol­i­cy should at this stage be lim­it­ed to the West­ern Balka­ns and Turkey, now that Ice­land has decid­ed uni­lat­er­al­ly not to fol­low Brus­sels’ path. It is worth men­tion­ing here that Spain is quite com­fort­able with the deci­sion made by Juncker’s Com­mis­sion not to enlarge in the next four years. Juncker’s deci­sion under­lined the need of con­sol­i­da­tion after the pre­vi­ous entrance of 13 states in only 10 years.


Traditionally (and still) in favour of accession, but worried about the context

Since the end of the Balkan Wars, Spain has had an active role in the region, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Bosnia, where numer­ous troops were present for about 20 years. That pres­ence has increased Spain’s inter­est in the West­ern Balka­ns. Spain has had, broad­ly speak­ing, quite a favourable posi­tion towards the enlarge­ment process in the West­ern Balkans.

At the moment, Mon­tene­gro and Ser­bia have start­ed mem­ber­ship talks and the For­mer Yugoslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia (FYROM) and Alba­nia (since last year) are can­di­date coun­tries. In all four cas­es, Spain sup­ports their can­di­da­cies to — once they meet the Copen­hagen cri­te­ria — join the Euro­pean Union. How­ev­er, there are sev­er­al issues that should be solved before the acces­sion, such as the rela­tions between Ser­bia and Koso­vo, or the cur­rent polit­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty in FYROM.

The rest of enti­ties are poten­tial can­di­dates for EU mem­ber­ship. Bosnia is still strug­gling 20 years after the Day­ton Agree­ment, but has recent­ly con­clud­ed a Sta­bil­i­sa­tion and Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment with the EU that should help improve its eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion and move for­ward in its rela­tions with the EU. Spain also sup­ports Bosnia’s path towards the EU, despite know­ing that it will be long and ardu­ous. In Koso­vo (not recog­nised by Spain as an inde­pen­dent state; the same posi­tion of Cyprus, Greece, Roma­nia, and Slo­va­kia) the EU’s EULEX mis­sion is try­ing to sup­port the author­i­ties in uphold­ing the rule of law. Spain, as a non-recog­nis­ing state, can­not sup­port EU’s per­spec­tive for Kosovo.

As for Turkey, there has tra­di­tion­al­ly been strong con­sen­sus across the Span­ish polit­i­cal spec­trum (unlike oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries such as France, Aus­tria, or Ger­many) that its can­di­da­cy for the EU was good for all the actors in place. There is a broad per­cep­tion in both coun­tries that there are sim­i­lar­i­ties in the process of mod­ern­iza­tion, Euro­peaniza­tion, and democ­ra­ti­za­tion, togeth­er with the grow­ing eco­nom­ic inter­ests (Turkey has become Spain’s sec­ond largest non-EU export mar­ket after the US since 2011).

How­ev­er, there have been no great steps in Turkey’s acces­sion talks in the last few years due to the resis­tance of some Euro­pean coun­tries and the author­i­tar­i­an drift of Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan, the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic of Turkey. Erdo­gan has shown very lit­tle com­mit­ment to Euro­pean val­ues and to the reforms demand­ed by the EU in the last few years. This author­i­tar­i­an drift has been very crit­i­cized by Span­ish policy-makers.

In fact, only one EU acces­sion chap­ter (on region­al pol­i­cy) has been opened since 2010. Since mem­ber­ship talks start­ed in Octo­ber 2005 only 14 out 35 acces­sion chap­ters have been opened. For geostrate­gic rea­sons, Brus­sels wants to keep Turkey on board, but it is not clear at all whether there is a real com­mit­ment with that coun­try to make it ever a mem­ber of the club. Schen­gen visa lib­er­al­iza­tion would show at least some prospect to Turkey. But one thing is crys­tal clear: Turkey’s EU mem­ber­ship is not like­ly to become a real­i­ty in the near future.


This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.