The NATO summit in Madrid was a difficult success to debate, one that even opposition leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo admits, and which represents a clear respite for Pedro Sánchez in what he has described internally as the worst moment in the legislature, following the fiasco of the Andalusian elections and inflation above 10%. The President, visibly delighted, believes that Spaniards should be “proud” to be organizing such a crucial international event.
But the results of the summit, which show clear unity among NATO allies against Russian leader Vladimir Putin, are troubling not only because they point to a much longer-than-expected war in Ukraine, with its harsh consequences for European economies and with it the Spanish economy, but also because they start an arms race that will force Spain to practically double its defense spending to meet its commitments, something that was unthinkable just a year ago and far from being part of the government agreement 2019 signed by the PSOE and United We Can when no one was seriously considering increasing military spending, on the contrary.
The coalition now has to digest this strategic turn towards the arms race, which United Podemos does not like at all. The ministers from the coalition’s minority faction, who did not take part in the summit because they played no role there – only the defense and foreign ministers, who come from the socialist sector because it was agreed in 2019 – have made themselves clear these days withdrew so as not to reopen wounds and, above all, not to overshadow the success of an international summit that was very important for Sánchez and his team. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t discrepancies, and some have voiced them.
The most difficult thing now will be to get a budget pact in September with a significant increase in defense spending, which should start later this year. Although the accounts will ultimately not be approved at the end of the year because the partners are not up to the task with the 2023 local elections on the horizon, the executive branch intends to bring them before Congress and try. And for that, the PSOE and United We Can have to agree first. One possibility, treated as a hypothesis in the executive branch, is to agree on everything but defense spending, which is possible since budgets are voted on separately in blocs corresponding to each ministry.
In any case, it’s too early to know the final outcome, and for now there are only notes showing the fundamental discrepancy, which is not just due to increases in military spending, but something strategic: United We Can believe that the only The best way to get it to the ballot box is to deepen progressive politics with a government swing to the left, and that doesn’t fit the message of the NATO summit.
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The PSOE, on the other hand, is convinced that the majority of citizens, including progressives, saw clearly that, as Sánchez says, “the world changed in February” with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and that this is changing the whole world and betting on increased military spending is inevitable if Spain is to have any impact on the planet and guarantee security in Europe, which is now being jeopardized by Putin.
United We Can has already made it clear that it is not satisfied with this initiative, nor with the announcement of a 50 percent increase in US destroyers at the Rota base in Cadiz, which US President Joe Biden and his Spanish counterpart said after their meeting on Tuesday announced in La Moncloa, although Sánchez is sure that he can convince them at least on this last point, which is the closest since the Council of Ministers will have to approve an amendment to the agreement with the US “soon”, according to the President.
Apart from this parliamentary complication, for which the PP has already opened the door to offer its support, Sánchez was very satisfied with the result of the summit and received congratulations from several delegations. “Spain has strengthened its position on the international scene, we have shown ourselves as a modern, solid country that wants to send a message in defense of a rules-based international order,” he assured. Sánchez also got the key NATO document, the Strategic Concept, protecting Ceuta and Melilla without mentioning them when it comes to the “territorial integrity of the allies”. The President believes they were already covered, but just in case that clarification was added. Asked about this, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg pointed out that NATO “will protect its allies from any threat,” an indirect way of saying that they would intervene in the event of an attack by Morocco, although Ceuta and Melilla do not specifically by the Washingtonian covered treaty organizing NATO.
Stoltenberg very clearly congratulated Spain on a summit where everything went as expected or even better, in particular the dinner at the Prado Museum and the previous images of all the guides strolling through the main Spanish gallery. “The organization was perfect, excellent, all allies express their gratitude, Madrid, a beautiful city, with the Royal Palace, the Prado Museum and this place, is the best setting for a historic NATO meeting [IFEMA] perfect for the summit. We are very grateful to the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez and the Spanish people. This shows that Spain is a great ally and the best way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Spain joining NATO.”
Despite the apparent euphoria, all world leaders have been begged for a bleak future after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden’s speech sounded particularly warmongering and with no options for negotiation. None of the speeches by the heads of state and government speaks of possible solutions, negotiations or the end of a conflict that is destroying Ukraine but also engulfing European economies, with inflation approaching 10%, or even about what just happened in Spain . Faced with this horizon, asked about the possibility of thinking about a way out of the war, Sánchez blamed Putin and offered no hopeful perspective. “We may be facing a much longer conflict than we initially thought,” admitted the president. “We all want negotiations, but Ukraine must first see clear and unequivocal support from allies in defending its territorial integrity against Putin’s aggression.” Stoltenberg has also argued that the only way out is for Putin to decide to leave Ukraine and end the war. The scenario of a negotiation in which Ukraine agrees to cede part of its territory to Russia therefore does not appear to be on the table of the summit that ended this Thursday.
In any case, Sánchez managed to draw the international limelight onto Spanish soil. The unknowns are now open within the coalition. After negotiations between the PSOE and United We Can to adopt the anti-crisis decree in the Council of Ministers rushed to a conclusion last Saturday, differences are being accentuated in decisions that require parliamentary approval and imply an arms race by both partners to deviate. In any case, what sources from both sectors are making clear is that nobody has the ability to break the government on the table. On the contrary, after the Andalusians, both the PSOE and United We Can have increased their strategic commitment to the coalition and the latter will definitely mark its own profile, but without ever breaking the rope. At least those are the plans now being handled in the coalition, which is preparing to digest this armaments turnaround in the world but is primarily concentrating on government measures to deal with the great invisible enemy that is wearing down all European executives: inflation just multiplied in the wake of a war that the NATO summit is showing to be much longer than expected.
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