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Madrid improvises Plan B after surprise win for Donald Trump

Rajoy government bet on Clinton victory; now faces an unfamiliar Washington

Rajoy and his PP will have to build a relationship with the Trump administration from scratch.
Rajoy and his PP will have to build a relationship with the Trump administration from scratch. EFE

After assuming that Hillary Clinton would win the US elections, the Spanish government must now urgently improvise ways to build bridges with an administration led by Donald Trump.

The Foreign Ministry had drawn up two confidential lists with the names of potential key members of the future US government: one listed Clinton aides, the other suggested Trump advisors.

Rajoy may find solace in the fact that most of Europe’s leaders are in the exact same situation

But there was a huge difference between both: the people on the Clinton list were familiar names to Spanish officials; those on the Trump list were unknown entities.

When George W. Bush cold shouldered Spanish PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero for pulling Spanish troops out of Iraq, the latter was able to turn for help to then-King Juan Carlos, who had a good working relationship with George Bush Sr.

But Spain’s Mariano Rajoy cannot count on the royal family’s mediation this time around. Juan Carlos’ son, Felipe VI, is friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton, but not with the billionaire who will be sitting in the Oval Office from January.

It will also be of little help that during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, she enjoyed a good relationship with the Spanish foreign ministers Miguel Ángel Moratinos and José Manuel García-Margallo, or that her running mate in her presidential bid, Tim Kaine, is a fluent Spanish speaker.

Madrid was not expecting Trump to win the US elections, and has no Plan B to fall back on.
Madrid was not expecting Trump to win the US elections, and has no Plan B to fall back on. AFP

In theory, the ideological similarities between the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the Republican Party in the US should help officials from both countries find common ground. But for once, this is not the case.

Spanish PP deputies in the EU parliament did not attend the Cleveland convention that nominated Trump in July, but they did travel to the Philadelphia convention where Clinton was put forward as the Democratic Party candidate.

And PP leaders met with House Speaker Paul Ryan after he distanced himself from Trump following revelations of the latter’s offensive comments about women in a video.

Rajoy may find solace in the fact that most of Europe’s leaders are in the exact same situation, with the sole exception of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. And Trump has no particular reason to dislike Spain, beyond his general contempt for Europe as a whole.

Rajoy may not count on the royal family’s mediation this time around

Yet Spain is in a particularly vulnerable situation because it is one of the countries that stood to benefit the most from the TTIP trade treaty. Trump, a champion of protectionism, may easily slam the door on that project.

And then there is Trump’s open hostility towards Mexico, a strategic partner of Spain’s. The devaluation of the Mexican peso following Trump’s victory is already having an impact on Spanish companies with investments in Mexico, government sources have admitted.

And Trump’s pledge to review Obama’s overtures to Cuba could also harm Spanish companies’ plans to do business on the island.

If Spanish diplomacy does not get its act together soon, Rajoy will have to wait until the spring to see Trump in person at the summit that NATO has called in Brussels to inaugurate its new headquarters.

English version by Susana Urra.

Palomares up in the air

The Republican victory also leaves another issue up in the air: the Palomares nuclear accident clean-up. A year ago, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Spanish counterpart José Manuel García-Margallo signed a deal declaring their intentions to clear up contaminated soil at the site of a 1966 air crash that left four nuclear bombs in the area. The agreement was the first stage of a long process to move almost 50,000 cubic meters of contaminated soil to the Nevada Desert in the United States. The next step should be a legally binding document specifying who would pay for what. Spain’s prolonged political paralysis delayed the draft, but Madrid was confident that Clinton would win the election and continue the process. Now, with Trump in power, the clean-up could be on indefinite hold.

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