Democratic Spain still lacks a law that lays down the objectives and structure of its diplomatic network. Instead, a 1955 regulation provides a nominal legal framework, while the passage of time and political changes have resulted in a foreign service plagued by management problems and administrative overlaps. So much so that the current government does not even know the exact number of civil servants working abroad, according to Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo. For these reasons, any attempt — not the first by far — to restructure and rationalize has to be welcomed.
After a process that has seen the withdrawal of over 30 drafts, the government proposal passed at last Friday’s Cabinet meeting shows the enormous difficulties that still have to be overcome, as well as the arrogance of the Popular Party (PP) administration on the matter, given that it has opened a period of consultation without even giving prior warning to the opposition.
The threat from the Socialists to break with the longstanding consensus on foreign policy over the issue is also a grave mistake. That consensus is more important today than ever because of the confrontation with Catalonia that has blown up.
Margallo’s idea that Spain’s regional government must follow Madrid’s diplomatic directions at all times has generated a great deal of tension between the capital and the Catalan administration of Artur Mas. Margallo wishes to demand information from regional officials prior to any trips abroad in order to offer assistance and coordinate the policies to be followed.
The Catalan government immediately described a plan that only seeks to rationalize diplomatic activity and make savings in terms of public money as “rancid nationalism.”
For these reasons, Andalusia has already opted to integrate three of its commercial missions within Spanish embassies, following a logic that also ought to prompt national authorities to coordinate with the European Union’s diplomatic corps.
The government’s proposals, so far, have come up short. The absolute homologation within embassies of all civil servants posted therein is not guaranteed. This will reduce the ability of the ambassador to organize the mission’s work in the most effective manner. The reform also leaves the door open to the exceptional case of naming political ambassadors.
On the plus side is the proposed creation of an Executive Council for Foreign Policy, which will be in charge of coordinating and watching over the diplomatic apparatus, as well as having the power to call on ambassadors to report to parliament.
This bill should be approved, and it is essential that this occurs by consensus. But on its own, the law will not be sufficient to modernize Spain’s rusty diplomatic structure. It is a positive thing that career diplomats and civil servants from the administration occupy most of the posts in the exterior, as long as this does not respond to mere corporatism, but rather the need to professionalize the service. That a government should begin its mandate by relieving ambassadors of their posts, for example, runs entirely counter to the direction that is being put forward in this draft.