Thursday, November 09, 2017

Elcano To Elcano: Marca España

Reference is often made to the "Marca España" and is usually made in the context of the country's tourism. But the Spain brand is much broader than just tourism. It is Spain as a whole, and the brand has been carefully, if not always wittingly, crafted over recent decades. The Marca España is, however, under threat. The good name of Spain is being dragged through the mud. Catalonia is to blame.

Insofar as anyone would have referred to a nation's brand, which of course they wouldn't have, the Spanish brand wasn't as historically strong as history suggests. The country most certainly had global presence. As of the end of the fifteenth century, it was the global power. It discovered America, albeit by accident as Columbus hadn't anticipated there being a massive great continent between Europe and Asia.

Spain vied for global power and a dominant ranking in terms of global presence with the English, the Portuguese, the French and the Dutch. But its heyday was obviously to pass. The years of the rivers of gold were to culminate in the rivers of blood and the humiliations of imperial loss. It was the Americans who drove the final nail into the coffin of the terminally infirm one-time power. At the turn of the twentieth century, therefore, Spain had ceased to be a power, though it retained its presence in South and Central America, courtesy of its imperial past and its cultural and linguistic exportation.

Despite this culture, and coincidental to its decline, Spain failed to stamp its presence as a place of high culture. When, for example, the young aristocrats of England would venture forth for their Grand Tour, they would not go south - certainly not as far as the Pyrenees. From Paris they would go east to Vienna, to Budapest. A southward detour was to Florence and Rome. Spain, with its eventual huge global presence for tourism, was not on the Grand Tour itinerary. 

It was Otto von Bismarck who made the most cutting of observations about Spain: "I am firmly convinced that Spain is the strongest country of the world. Century after century trying to destroy herself and still no success." The truth about the Spanish global presence was that it was in spite of constant financial ineptitude, of regular military adventures and arguments, and of consistent internal conflicts. By the time that Bismarck died, the same year (1898) when Spain suffered its humiliation at the hands of the Americans, the Spanish brand was recognised for the way in which Bismarck had described it.

Through the twentieth century, the brand was hauled through the mud with depressing frequency. There was the 1909 Tragic Week, when Europe was aghast at the treatment of Barcelona rebels. The first dictator, Primo de Rivera, emerged in 1923. There was to be a second dictator. Yet for all this upheaval, Spain was acquiring a different reputation. There was a romantic perception of the country, which was to attract the likes of Ernest Hemingway. It was the start to what was to eventually follow. The influx of tourists, the death of Franco, the establishment of a firm economy and of democracy, an heroic king who defied rebellion, a charismatic president (González), the joining of the European club. By the mid-1980s the Marca España had taken hold. 

Juan Sebastián Elcano was the Spaniard who completed the first circumnavigation of the globe after the Portuguese, Ferdinand Magellan, died. His is a name steeped in the glories of the emergent Spain of the early sixteenth century. And this name has been lent to the Real Instituto Elcano think tank. Its latest Global Presence Index has been published. This is a measurement of a number of variables - economic, military, science, culture, international cooperation, tourism. The global number one is the USA. Spain is twelfth, a position it maintains from the previous index. The Marca España, where the ranking is concerned, remains strong.

But look deeper and see the extent to which regions contribute or don't contribute. The Balearics, for all the tourism, is tenth. The islands provide 2.5% of Spain's global presence. The Canaries and Cantabria are among regions which contribute more. Heading the list is the Madrid region: 29.1% of this presence. Andalusia is third with 10.1%. In between, in second place with 19.6%, is Catalonia. Fifth is the Basque Country. The two stroppiest regions of Spain together make up more than a quarter of this presence.

For it to hold good, the Marca España needs Spain to hold good. It needs unity, harmony, consistency. The Spain of recent years has cultivated its brand by having at long last discovered these. Yes, it has had to contend with conflict - ETA for instance - but the Marca España has been able to hold its head proudly on the global stage. Catalonia threatens its unravelling. History, unfortunately, suggests that this is how it should be. Century after century trying to destroy herself.

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