After tanning in the offices of the European Commission, the World Trade Organization and the UN, in January 2020 Arancha Gonzalez Laya She was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, EU and Cooperation in the second Government of Pedro Sánchez. In that position she had to deal with the pandemic of the covid and the diplomatic crisis with Moroccowith the anger of Rabat for the care in a hospital in Spain of the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, and the subsequent crossing of 8,000 migrants to Ceuta. On July 12, 2021, she was relieved along with five other ministers in the remodeling carried out by Sánchez. Currently, González Laya is focused on the academic field. She is dean of the Sciences Po School of International Relations in Paris. She attends EL PERIÓDICO as part of a visit to Barcelona, where she has participated in a colloquium at CIDOB and in the cycle of dialogues ‘Knots of democracy’ of the Fundació Ernest Lluch.
Russian President Vladimir Putin kicked the international chessboard with the invasion of Ukraine. Now, he has redoubled his pulse with the annexation of four regions of Ukraine. How far do you think he is willing to go?
Putin is in a very difficult position because he has lost the war but Ukraine has not won it yet. We are facing a wounded political animal, in a complicated international and national context and for which there are few ways out. The most obvious is a flight forward escalating the conflict. We are seeing it in their threats, which we do not know if they will be fulfilled or not, but in any case they must be taken seriously, including the use of nuclear weapons. This is a complicated situation, and I think that Putin has made three very big miscalculations and now they are showing up on the battlefield.
What are those errors?
The first, having underestimated Ukraine, its population, its national feeling, its desire for independence and sovereignty. The second, having underestimated the response capacity of the European Union, because this war that Putin is starting is a war against Ukraine but also to weaken the EU. And the third has been thinking that China, India or Turkey would be their unconditional allies. What we are seeing in these countries is tactics, but certainly a questioning of the Russian strategy.
“Putin is a wounded political animal who has few ways out”
Some voices warn of the risk of a nuclear conflict and the most apocalyptic are already talking about the Third World War. Are we going towards these scenarios?
We know, and the Secretary General of the United Nations has been very clear about this, that no one wins a nuclear war. It would be to enter a spiral of self-destruction. But I want to think that our historical experience will prevail.
How do you see the role of China in this conflict?
China has maintained a very Chinese strategy, where its own interest is above all else, and one of ambiguity. It is true that at the beginning there was talk of this alliance between China and Russia, but we have seen how those words have not been translated into concrete actions. In other words, China has not imposed sanctions on Russia, but neither has it opted to help it bypass the sanctions. She is benefiting, yes, from cheaper energy prices. But I don’t think she is siding with Russia. You have to read not only what China says, but what she doesn’t say and especially what she doesn’t do.
Is the war in Ukraine the most important challenge that the EU has had to face in its history?
We live in a moment of polycrisis for the European Union. He had to navigate the 2008 financial crisis, the Atlantic crisis with Trump’s arrival in the White House challenging the EU and Brexit, the covid crisis… The latest crisis, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is a little different . It is an existential challenge because, faced with the geoeconomic peace project, the EU has some countries that understand an international system built on coercive power, the geopolitics of hard power. Here begins a new phase of the EU, which we have to nurture if we want our system to remain the only one in the world in which economic progress, democracy and solidarity are kept in balance. And if we want to continue to be that in the future, we have to invest today in a more geopolitical Europe. That is our great challenge.
After initial unanimous and solid responses, the EU’s reactions to the Russian invasion have begun to show some cracks. Is there a risk that these cracks end up damaging the Union?
We have to be very aware of how important it is to maintain that unity today. It is essential and must have two very clear expressions. On the one hand, a construction of more European strategic autonomy that gives us the ability to decide how to navigate in this more geopolitical world. But this European response also has to be expressed in being able to articulate a European political community beyond the EU, like the one gathered in Prague, to build a European geopolitical space. With the EU countries, those that want to be members of the EU, but also with other European countries that do not want to be members but share this vision of economic progress, cooperation, solidarity and democracy.
“We have to be very aware of how important it is to maintain the unity of the EU”
Another danger hanging over the EU is the rise of the extreme right and populism. The mechanism to condition aid on respect for the rule of law against Hungary and Poland has never been implemented. Isn’t this counterproductive for the EU and that other countries may be tempted to break the rules?
We clearly have a democracy problem within the EU. It is not enough to say that we want more democracy in the world, we have to make sure that it works within the EU and now it is being attacked from within by those who question fundamental elements of a democratic system such as the independence of powers, the rule of law and individual rights. But we have to find a way. I believe that the instruments with which the EU has provided itself are becoming more sophisticated and allow a clearer carrot-and-stick game. Because the goal doesn’t have to be the stick, but swinging the stick to bring about behavior change. And if there is no change, obviously the sanctions must be applied. But the important thing is that sanctions have to be that instrument that allows us to make progress in respecting all the elements that constitute democracy in Europe. And I think we have to be firm on that. It is a question of credibility.
There are still 9 months left for Spain to assume the rotating presidency of the EU, but preparations are already underway. What do you think will be the challenges of this mandate?
The presidency will be marked by two objectives: one, to strengthen the EU and its internal policies in that strategic autonomy and move towards the Energy Union. But it is also necessary to invest in partnerships with third countries because what Europe has to avoid above all is to fall into the trap of the West against the rest of the world. We can only achieve more European strategic autonomy if we do so by building stronger relations with other parts of the world. There, Spain has a very important role to play in advancing relations between the EU and Latin America and the Caribbean. And I think that also, due to its geographical location, Spain should pay more attention to Africa.
He has recently participated in the launch of the Multilateralism Observatory. Is on crisis?
The challenges of our time, from climate change, pandemic management, financial stability, the nuclear issue, international trade, the eradication of poverty, all of this needs international cooperation and that requires multilateralism. Now, multilateralism today is not in good health because its actors, which are the countries, are not in very good health. We have to invent a new multilateralism where countries are not the only actors, where there are other actors and other voices, civil society, companies, unions, academia. And we need to invent new ways of cooperating internationally, a multilateralism that is capable of dealing with issues in a more polyhedral way.
“You have to read not only what China says, but what it doesn’t say and, above all, what it doesn’t do”
Last March, the Spanish government gave its support to Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, a support that provoked the anger of Algeria, Spain’s main gas supplier. Do you have any key to understand this step by Sánchez?
I am the least indicated to make exegesis of the decisions of the Government to which I have belonged, I am very careful not to enter this type of debate. But I would say two things. In these times of political turbulence we need to have the best relations with all our neighbors. We need to have the best relations with Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, even more so considering that their neighbors are in a dire situation, the Sahel is burning from all sides. We have to help each other with a very broad vision, not only for security, but also for the joint fight against terrorism, for economic development, for the fight against climate change. that needs a lot fineness, as the Italians say, because it is true that there are great difficulties between them. And the second thing I would say is that I personally have always sought that conflicts like the one in Western Sahara have a compass, which is international law and the central role of the United Nations, and in particular the special envoy of the secretary general, who He is the one who can help the parties reach an agreement that is solid because they have found it, no one has imposed it on them.
Was the decision to attend to the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, in a Spanish hospital the trigger for her replacement as Foreign Minister?
That question is not up to me to answer, that must be asked of whoever decides to relieve me. What I have always been very clear about is that, first of all, it is an honor to serve my country and that is something that for me has a personal value above all else, and that when you serve your country you serve at the will of who appoints him, who is the President of the Government. He can appoint you and can relieve you, and that must be taken with all the naturalness in the world.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.