Trump or Biden: Who is better for Spain-US relations?

Trump or Biden: Who is better for Spain-US relations?
Photos: AFP
As the world anxiously awaits the results of the US elections, we take a look at what another four years of Donald Trump in the White House could mean for Spain and whether a win by Joe Biden would strengthen relations between the two nations.

Brexit

The outcome of the US election is widely touted to have an influence on whether there will be a no-deal Brexit in the UK, one of the main concerns for the Spanish government with fewer than 60 days left for the end of the transition period.

The UK is the biggest foreign investor in Spain, with more than €8 billion pumped into the Spanish economy so far in 2020 (56 percent of all foreign investment in the country), resulting in the direct creation of 201,000 jobs.

In pre-Covid times, 19 million British tourists visited Spain (2019 figures) spending €18 billion on their holidays, and many Spanish communities survive thanks to the economic injection of British ‘swallows’ spending extended periods of time in the country.

All this is at risk if a no-deal Brexit and its consequences make it harder for Brits to visit Spain.

Ivan Rogers, former UK ambassador to the EU, has said that UK prime minister Boris Johnson will think “history was going his way” if Donald Trump – an outspoken supporter of a no-deal Brexit – is re-elected.

“If they don’t get what they want, I would walk away,” Trump told the Sunday Times in mid-2019 regarding a potential no-deal Brexit.

The incumbent US leader has promised that his country’s ‘special relationship’ with their anglophone friends across the pond would lead to a quick and easy trade deal once they’re rid of the 'clutches' of the EU, who Trump is not a fan of either.

But if Biden wins the election, the UK could end up at the back of the queue as feared by many.

The Democratic candidate has never been a fan of Brexit or Johnson.

Biden has ruled out any future trade agreement between the US and the UK if the ruling Conservatives don’t respect the Good Friday Agreement as is currently happening, tweeting “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit”.

If Biden – who has Irish roots – were to win, it wouldn’t be surprising if his first call to a head of state was not to Downing Street as tradition marks, but to the Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Trump poses with Spain's King Felipe VI during a meeting at the White House in 2018.

Tariffs on Spanish goods

If Trump wins, the general consensus is that his trade war against the US’s European allies-turned-enemies will simply rage on.

The Republican leader’s imposition of $7.5 billion in annual tariffs on the EU has had a huge impact on Spanish exports to the US, with traditional goods such as Cava, cheese, olive oil and seafood losing millions of euros respectively.

Stopping the negotiation of the new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty (TTIP) between the US and the EU won’t help either, since 97 percent of the tariffs could have been eliminated.

On the geopolitical front, the refusal to give military autonomy to the EU would continue with a Trump victory, as the bloc depends on the United States’ approval through NATO for this to occur. Spain is one of the countries that defends the EU’s military emancipation.

Joe Biden’s stance on international trade isn’t quite clear yet, having chosen not to mention tariffs or foreign investment in his electoral rhetoric.

It is true however that he has run on a message of prioritising the US’s economic recovery and job creation, which could be perceived as protectionist, as well as supporting the Buy American Act that encourages the purchase of national products and services.

But this could just be in the context of the election campaign in which he has needed to enlist the support of a broad spectrum of Democratic Party leaders, some of whom have deep reservations about free trade.

According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Biden’s foreign policy agenda outlines how “American Leadership” has been lacking from President Trump’s policy of “America First”, “emphasizing the importance of training the U.S. workforce for a competitive global environment, a renewed commitment to reducing trade barriers, and a coordinated approach to negotiations with China that utilizes U.S. allies and international institutions”.

Furthermore, former National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told the US Chamber of Commerce in September that Biden would end the “artificial trade war” against Europe, while working to address ongoing imbalances in agricultural trade between the two sides.

Then US Vice-President Joe Biden meets former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in Madrid in 2014. 

Spain's far right weakened

Before the wave of populism which swept across the world on the cusp of Trump’s 2016 victory, Spain hadn’t really had a far-right party garnering much support since the end of Spain’s dictatorship in 1975-1978.

In 2015 Vox was still a fringe party with only 0.23 percent of national votes.

But by the time 2019’s general elections came around, the party experienced a meteoric rise, becoming the country's third political force with its patriotic, conservative, anti-immigration, anti-media and anti-EU rhetoric. Sound familiar?

Vox’s leader Santiago Abascal is a keen supporter of Donald Trump and everything he stands for, announcing in 2019 that his party also wanted to ‘build a wall’ along Spain’s southern border. Even his tweets sound similar to Trump’s.

“Whatever the outcome of the US elections, once again we can point to the ignorance and manipulation of the media, political experts, pollsters and opinion givers,” Abascal wrote on Tuesday.

“Once more their lies have been exposed. Trump can feel like a winner, for still standing against everyone”.

 

Vox, just like other far-right parties in Europe such as Le Front National in France, have an ally in Trump, someone who has normalised hate speech, hyperbolism and extreme views among disenfranchised voters who have been let down by the establishment.

A Biden victory could result in a shift in mentality globally, at least in terms of exposure to the chaos which governs our daily news in recent years, and with it a return to more moderate views both in Spain and abroad.

With the prospect of a weakened Vox if Trump were to leave office, it’s no surprise that Abascal also had this to say about the Democratic frontrunner: “Biden is El País's favourite. Podemos's favourite. Otegui's favourite. Maduro's favourite. China's favourite. Iran's favourite. A paedophile’s favourite.” 

READ MORE: Americans in Spain: How do you feel about the US election?


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