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'Spaniards are more critical of Europe now'

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'Spaniards are more critical of Europe now'
By playing a diplomatic role in eastern Europe, Spain can also reinforce its own strong position in the EU. Photo: Viktor Drachev/AFP
18:24 CET+01:00
As protesters take to the streets in the Ukraine, The Local talks to Spanish foreign policy analyst Alicia Sorroza about the implications for Europe as a whole and Spain in particular.

In late November, the Ukrainian Government pulled out of a deal which would have meant tighter relations with the European Union (EU).

This led to allegations that the country had bowed to Russian pressure — claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin strongly denied.

The political situation in the country has since deteriorated with opposition protesters taking to the streets to voice their anger. On Wednesday riot police stormed the barricades set up by protesters in what The Economist called a botched crackdown. 

On Friday, opposition leaders sat down with President Viktor Yanukovych for tense talks. With the situation still, unclear, The Local spoke to Spanish foreign policy analyst Alicia Sorroza about what events in the Ukraine mean for Europe and Spain.      

What is the significance of the crisis in the Ukraine for Europe?

There are many implications of the crisis. Ukraine is a frontier state with borders to Slovakia and Poland among other countries. It also has strong historic, cultural and economic links with Europe.

Then there is, of course, the energy issue with Russian gas coming to Europe via the Ukraine.

But the current crisis is also about configuring the power game in the east of Europe.

Russia is on a high at the moment, with diplomatic successes with Iran (a nuclear non-proliferation treaty) and Syria (a decision to scrap chemical weapons stockpiles), and  the Ukraine would add to that list.

At the same time, the European diplomatic machinery has kicked in to capitalize on recent success at the summit of Vilnius (which saw the EU sign important cooperation agreements with Georgia and Moldova).

For the Ukraine though, it's not the case of one or the other. The country has economic problems and Russia is more willing to supply money, whereas Europe doesn't want to get caught up in a bidding war.

And what are implications of the situation in the Ukraine for Spain?

Spain doesn't have any key interests in the Ukraine, but Spain was very involved in the success of the summit in Vilnius, in terms of participating and giving opinions.

At the same time, by playing a role in eastern Europe, Spain can also reinforce its position in the EU as well as consolidate its success in southern European diplomacy (including the Union for the Mediterranean in which Spain plays a key role).

When Spain makes friends in the east, it can also gain allies for its southern European diplomacy.

Spain's involvement with the Ukraine also has Spain playing a slightly different diplomatic role in terms of Russia.

Spain has good relations with Russia — not deep, but strong. There have been high level visits between the two countries, and Spain didn't support the independence of Kosovo, siding with Serbia, and therefore Russia.

But now in the case of the Ukraine, Spain has taken the EU position.

Has Spain become less pro-Europe given the economic crisis in the eurozone?

No. Despite everything, Spaniards remain in favour of Europe — not to as great an extent as fifteen years ago, but there is still a lot of popular support.

I would say, though, that Spaniards are now more critical towards Europe than before.

It's not necessarily an issue that the whole society is engaged in, but the crisis is there on television every day and people have a more mature attitude toward the EU.

They no longer see Europe as a panacea for everything. 

In diplomatic terms, Spain is very strongly pro-Europe. In European affairs, Spain works with the EU and is working towards forging a joint EU foreign policy. 

Spain is also working hard to push for the formation of a unified banking system in the EU.

Alicia Sorroza is a coordinator and analyst at Spain's Real Elcano Institute. Her work focuses on European and Spanish foreign policy.  

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