This week saw the latest development in Spain’s ongoing campaign for greater integration within the EU - or so a cynic could say. On Wednesday, it was announced that the EU has been awarded Spain’s Princess of Asturias 2017 Concord Prize for maintaining harmonious relationships between its member states. The prize-giving committee said that they were giving the award to the EU because it is “a unique model of supranational political integration”.
Anyone who’s been aware of what the Spanish government has been up to lately - apart from trying to push through a belated 2017 budget - won’t be surprised at this. Back in February, Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party submitted a document to Brussels in which it proposed, among other things, a common banking union and an EU-wide unemployment scheme. This was followed up, just last week, by an interview given to the UK’s Financial Times by economy minister Luis de Guindos; in this, De Guindos argued that the EU’s survival depended on tighter economic ties and on the bloc’s executive being given more control over member states’ economies.
It seems a little more than coincidental, then, that this year the Spanish government has chosen to celebrate the EU for doing - or trying to do - something which it wants it to do better. There is also a delicious irony in giving an award to Brussels for ensuring the “peaceful, progressive and free association of its members” when one of its most powerful nations has just started the process of leaving, threatening the bloc’s very survival in doing so. The EU might be guided by the ideal of “supranational political integration” but clearly the reality of achieving it is another matter.
Spain, though generally pro-EU, has also been a recalcitrant member of late. Rajoy’s government has failed to meet Brussels’ deficit reduction targets every year since it’s been in power and narrowly avoided an EU-imposed fine for its fiscal laxity last July. In letting Spain off the hook, the Commission gave Spain an extra two years - until 2018 - to bring its deficit under the EU ceiling of 3%. This is why it was weird to hear De Guindos telling the FT last week, “You need someone who can say to Spain, ‘You need to have [for example] a labour market reform and this has got to be done by the end of the year’.” Swap “labour market reform” for “reduced budget deficit” and this is exactly what the EU has been telling Spain for years.
You can’t help wondering if Rajoy’s government is hoping that the prize will encourage officials in Brussels to look a little more favourably upon Spain. The Concord award, by the way, also carries a cash prize of €50,000: macroeconomically-speaking it’s a tiny sum, granted - but still one that the Spanish government could have better spent elsewhere.