From 9-11 to 3-11: Spain’s Role in the European Union

From 9-11 to 3-11: Spain’s Role in the European Union

Topic: September 11 has had an impact on the EU and the processes underway since then, especially the negotiations on the Constitution. Now, March 11 poses new questions regarding the possible repercussions of the terrible terrorist attacks committed in Madrid.

Summary: Although it is early to evaluate the repercussions of March 11 on the European Union, this analysis will focus on two issues worth considering: first, the impact that 3-11 will have on the Spanish government’s European policy and, secondly, the effect these events will have on transatlantic relations.

Analysis: 9-11 has had an impact on the EU and the processes underway since then, especially the negotiations on the Constitution. In 2001, Europeans showed unconditional support of the US and its people. This undeniable, wholehearted support extended to the (UN-backed) intervention in Afghanistan. After that, the Bush administration’s wide-reaching, binary, anti-terrorist dogma –affecting a wide range of situations and countries– culminated in disagreement between certain EU states and the US and, worse still, in a thinly veiled standoff between what Rumsfeld called the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ Europe over the invasion of Iraq.

It is still early to evaluate the repercussions of 3-11 on the EU and attempts to do so shortly after the events may seem hasty and provisional. However, two issues are worth considering: First, how 3-11 will affect the European policy of the new Spanish government; this is particularly relevant given the recent role played by the outgoing government. Secondly, its effects on transatlantic relations, which are under great stress because of the war in Iraq. Taken as a whole, the two issues suggest the following hypothesis: 3-11 could finally close the issues posed by 9-11 regarding European construction; 3-11 could make concerns about the terrorist threat an inescapable part of the integration process, closing the gap between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ Europe and shifting the fulcrum of transatlantic relations towards greater (US-UE) bilateralism.

The combination of the attacks, the change of government and the abandonment of the previous government’s European policy indicate that Spain could play a major role in the coming events at the heart of the EU. In themselves, the 3-11 attacks have attracted the attention of the EU and its member states toward Spain, whose outgoing government had revealed a certain amount of Euro-scepticism on more than one occasion while at the same time becoming one of the main obstacles to negotiations on the Constitution. The solidarity seen around the world has been particularly intense in Europe and its member states: several European prime ministers and foreign affairs ministers were present at the demonstrations in Madrid on March 12 (in contrast with the conspicuous absence of members of the Bush administration); there were minutes of silence in France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Croatia (I do not know if a minute of silence was respected in the US); the Spanish national anthem was played at the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace; the European Parliament took the initiative to designate March 11 as the European Day of Victims of Terrorism and a minute of silence was held in the parliament chamber. These are, of course, symbolic and perhaps anecdotal events. Or perhaps not. What these spontaneous demonstrations reveal is the inappropriateness of references to an ‘Old’ and a ‘New’ Europe, where the former is loaded with negative connotations of failing to work for the common cause. The governments and people of the EU have expressed an intense feeling of sympathy, solidarity and even fraternity. In some way, the ‘community of emotions’ revealed by these reactions (emotional in the sense that they were spontaneous and popular) confirms perceptions of a common European mentality and an incipient sense of citizen identity, initiated by the widely shared opposition to the war in Iraq.

This perception confirms and reinforces the main lines of the Spanish Socialist Party’s (PSOE) European policy, which has its roots in the previous periods of government and is characterized by favouring greater integration along federal lines, while rebuilding relations with France and Germany. On some issues, such as the debate on the redefinition of the Stability Pact, there may be ideological differences that lead to substantially different positions, while there are certain issues where the new government will not have much room to shift from the positions taken by the previous government (for example, negotiations on approaching financial horizons). Zapatero’s conciliatory, pro-European attitude could be a strong negotiating card that would allow very firm positions to be clothed with a kid glove. We must not underestimate the negotiating potential derived from the perception of other European leaders that Spain could unblock the constitutional situation in exchange for certain concessions. Contrary to the arguments given by the previous government, to the effect that Spain was not the only obstacle to negotiating the Constitution, it does indeed seem that the change in government has automatically re-launched the process.

The context created by 3-11, combined with the change in government in Spain, immediately affects two specific areas: first, the EU’s anti-terrorist policy, where continuity and the intensification of prior initiatives can be expected; and, secondly, the progressive strengthening of the line of thought that advocates a distancing from the Bush administration’s Iraq policy and, by the same token, a reinterpretation of transatlantic relations.

EU Anti-terrorist Policy
The main conclusion of the Extraordinary Council of Ministers of Justice and the Interior on March 20 was a commitment to activate the measures taken in the wake of 9-11, but which have been languishing for lack of political will. Other initiatives are also on the table: there is an agreement to establish a ‘security coordinator’ responsible for rationalizing and giving coherence to the EU’s efforts to fight terrorism, and to increase exchanges of information among police and judicial authorities. The most ambitious proposal, the creation of an embryonic European CIA, consisting of an intelligence agency, but without police services (proposed by the Austrian government and supported by the governments of Belgium and Ireland, as well as by the Commission and the High Representative), has met with the resistance of countries reluctant to share information and intelligence. This is why the Spanish government should explore the options for making headway with ‘increased cooperation’ along with the four big countries. Finally, consideration has been given to the possibility of more quickly putting in force the ‘solidarity clause’ found in the draft Constitution, which contains a specific reference to terrorism at the request of the Aznar government. This set of measures emphasizes the importance of intelligence, information and counter-espionage as methods of combating terrorism, and the principle of legality as the guiding force behind these measures.

The incoming government will, logically, continue with the main lines of the previous government’s anti-terrorist policy. In fact, Rodríguez Zapatero has made this a priority of his government and has done so in the 3-11 context, which for the governments of other member states has heightened their perception of terrorism as the greatest threat to European security. Spain is a key country in this policy. Since González’s term the interest of successive governments has been to ‘Europeanise’ anti-terrorist policy; that is, to create European responses to issues that in the 1980s and 1990s were considered priorities by few countries other than Spain. Initiatives such as the Euro-order have resulted from a gestation period that has lasted through several governments, though it is only fair to emphasize the special effort made by the Aznar governments. This effort, made in the new panorama opened up after 9-11, decisively paved the way for action to be taken towards European judicial and police cooperation.

The new government’s anti-terrorist policy will likely continue along ‘Europeanising’ lines. Now that the problem is widely perceived, Spain can make use of its unfortunate experience with terrorism so that the EU can explore and use elements of Spanish anti-terrorist policy, which rests fundamentally on scrupulous respect for legality. Zapatero’s declared ‘Europeanist’ commitment (combined with the unfortunate circumstances) could be a tool put at the service of the need to more quickly and actively implement the set of anti-terrorist measures.

Transatlantic Relations
For the EU’s anti-terrorist policy to reflect continuity and intensification, it is obvious that the coincidence of 3-11 with the change of government in Spain will reinforce criticism of the Bush administration within the EU. The PSOE’s stance on the issue is well known; what is new is how Rodríguez Zapatero’s position has affected and could yet affect other EU governments (the long wave referred to be Eugenio Scalfaro), in particular those of Italy, the UK and Poland. The Polish government has also begun to express hesitancy about the reasons for its presence in Iraq; the country’s prime minister has acknowledged ‘having been induced to error regarding the existence of weapons of mass destruction’. The governments of the UK and Italy are finding it increasingly difficult to explain and justify their options. On the whole, the coalition of support for the Bush administration’s current foreign policy is weakening because it was not built on solid foundations. The existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq had not been conclusively proved and, as a result, for lack of a specific United Nations resolution justifying the invasion, the intervention ordered by the Bush administration is illegal and illegitimate. Little by little, the governments of the EU are coming to a consensus on this point, which means the emergence of a generally accepted position.

This does not mean, however, a weakening of the transatlantic link. Rather, it simply means that the link is unviable if based on unilateral positions supported by ad hoc allies in opposition to other European countries. For Spain in particular, the positions of the previous government would be simply unsustainable without US support. By the same token, Spain’s pre-eminence is in direct relation to the conflict between the US and France/Germany and if this conflict had disappeared, Spanish influence would likely have declined. European governments, though still somewhat hesitant, recognize terrorism as the key security problem of the early 21st century, but specifically reject the Bush administration’s foreign policy as the solution.

The specific backdrop against which transatlantic relations must be considered is the situation in Iraq. It is wrong to interpret the rejection of the current US administration’s position as an unwillingness to contribute to solving the Iraqi situation. Regardless of the causes of this situation, European governments consider it essential to stabilize and democratize Iraq. Even the governments of the EU member states that are most critical of the current US government have expressed their desire to cooperate (as they did earlier in Afghanistan). Contrary to some opinions that have been expressed, the situation offers a splendid opportunity to include all Europeans in the effort to rebuild Iraq (and it must be kept in mind that France and Germany were explicitly excluded by the Bush administration).

Eventual agreement will necessarily involve working towards a new United Nations resolution that provides a (widely-backed) mandate to try to guarantee the transition to democracy. Given the presence of Spain, France and Germany on the UN Security Council, it is likely that these countries –possibly with the support of Russia and a favourable attitude on the part of the British government– will make a coordinated effort to ‘convince’ the US administration to hand control over to the United Nations.


The context created by 3-11, combined with the change in government in Spain, immediately affects two specific areas: first, the EU’s anti-terrorist policy, where continuity and the intensification of prior initiatives can be expected; and, secondly, the progressive strengthening of the line of thought that advocates greater distance from the Bush administration’s Iraq policy and, by the same token, a reinterpretation of transatlantic relations.

Carlos Closa Montero
Political Science and Administration, Department of Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Zaragoza