In for a dollar

The purpose of Pedro Sánchez's trip to the US this week is to promote private American investment in Spain. He says he's aiming for $500 billion to boost the 140 billion euros ($165 billion) coming from the EU over the next few years, which seems like an excessive amount of money, until you remember how wildly ambitious the Spanish prime minister is about economic reform.

Sánchez's US tour is part of a broader initiative, aimed at persuading foreign companies to pump cash into Spain - but the Socialist leader was busy doing the opposite back in the spring. At the end of April, he unveiled his "Focus Africa" plan with fanfare, visiting Senegal and Angola accompanied by representatives of a dozen Spanish companies. The project, he said, will improve infrastructure in key Sub-Saharan countries, thus tackling the fundamental causes of migration and reducing the number of undocumented arrivals in Spain.

Although "Focus Africa" seems to have fallen off the agenda since its announcement, Sánchez spoke about it at the time as if it was the defining project of his premiership. In New York this week, though, he said that rebooting Spain's economy is his overarching goal, for which he needs the support of America's private sector.

The Socialist leader has apparently set himself the triple-aspect task of rejuvenating Spain's economy, reforming Sub Saharan Africa and, almost as a by-product, solving a rapidly-escalating immigration problem. But in all three cases, corruption might be an even bigger obstacle to success than over-ambition.

One of the toughest problems Sánchez faces in implementing his "Focus Africa" plan is convincing Spain's business world to invest in a region in which governments and businesses are plagued by bribery, fraud and mismanagement. One can't help wondering whether Spain's reputation in this respect might also be a hindrance to foreign investment, whether from the U.S. or elsewhere.

Having said that, it'd be a stretch to argue that Spain is as corrupt as countries such as Senegal and Angola: in Transparency International's 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, Spain came in 32nd out of 179 countries, with a score of 62 (an improvement on 2017, when it hit an all-time low of 57 points); Senegal was placed 67th with 45 points and Angola 142nd with just 27 points.

Spain might not have sunk to such depths, but its most recent corruption investigations - into allegations of fraud and corporate espionage - concern Iberdrola, Repsol and CaixaBank, three of the country's biggest companies. That isn't doing much reputational good for the Spanish corporate world as a whole, especially at a time when Iberdrola is bidding for EU funds. Although perhaps not to the same extent, US and other international investors may be wary about Spain for the same reason that Spanish investors are about Sub-Saharan Africa.