Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Does Trump Think Of Spain?

One would have to assume that a long, long way down the list of things on Donald Trump's mind as he was preparing to speak on Wednesday morning was how it was all playing in Spain. The president-elect, not slow to resort to Twitter, has demonstrated a general lack of interest in the country if his tweets are anything to go by.

In January last year, he hashtagged Spain as in Miss Spain, having suggested that the top five in the 63rd Miss Universe contest should be - in order - USA, Thailand, Colombia, Spain and Jamaica. 

Other occasions when Spain loomed onto the Trump Twitter radar were in April 2012 when he announced how much the Obamas like Spanish vacations - the visit of Michelle and daughters in 2010 had apparently cost US taxpayers 476,000 dollars; a reference in 2013 to the Spanish government shutting down wind turbines because the cost of maintenance was higher than the income generated; one of 2012 in which he suggested that the "whole euro thing will eventually be doomed"; and a 2014 note that he was making a big speech in Barcelona before heading off to Scotland and Ireland. The big speech, which went completely unnoticed in the Spanish media, was at an international congress for sales professionals.

The tweets don't offer a great insight, if any, into Trump's thinking about Spain, other than that he indeed doesn't think about the country to any extent. The whole euro thing being doomed may yet be prophetic, but at the time he tweeted, Spain was only barely managing to avoid being on its knees and the whole euro thing did look as though it were liable to collapse. As for wind turbines, his views on alternative energies and climate change are a matter for public record, so no real surprise that he should pick up on them.

However, his views on the whole euro thing did include greater reflections on the state of Spain and its relations with the European Union at that time. The Spanish economic affairs minister, Luis de Guindos (who is keeping his position in the new cabinet), in essence has confirmed Trump's opinion. In a book he has written, de Guindos has revealed just how bad things were in 2012. At a G-20 summit, members of the Spanish delegation were seriously contemplating throwing in the euro towel. The problems posed by the Spanish economy went well beyond Europe; G-20 saw the country as a risk to global stability.

Trump also saw Spain as a land of opportunity. The reason? Plummeting real-estate values. Anti-globalist as he may appear, Trump is not the parochial individual some of the US electorate might have been led to believe; not when he owns hotels outside the US, such as Turnberry, and has licensed the Trump name to others. One of the points of speculation of his presidency to come will surely be to what extent he has at the back of his mind (or further forward than that) the Trump empire.

De Guindos, Mariano Rajoy and the Spanish government have been given a greater collective headache because of Trump's victory. If he's good to his word and goes for protectionist policies, this is not great news for Spain. Rajoy constantly appears to be head of a government needing to engage in crisis management, and these are crises not of its making. He inherited the mess in 2011. Now he has Brexit and Trump to worry about. De Guindos and others in the cabinet will be concerned that economic recovery will falter.

Rajoy was quick to go onto Twitter and to congratulate Trump on his victory. "We will continue to work to strengthen the relationship that unites us to the United States, an indispensable partner," he tweeted. Trump, at some point, is going to have to talk to Rajoy; it was best, therefore, for the Spanish premier to get in his good wishes, as he's likely to need them.

Other reaction was less positive. PSOE voiced its concern. There is now "enormous uncertainty" was one statement, although it was modified by noting confidence in the institutions and systems of control in the US democracy; Trump has yet to have to deal with these. Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos believed that liberty had been lost and protectionism had been a winner and he attacked the populism of both the right and the left. How can the lies be combated, he wonders.

One of those populists, Pablo Iglesias of Podemos, attacked Trump's xenophobia and rejected the idea that he is "anti-system". He was right, but then what will be the "system"? Rajoy needs to keep saying nice things on Twitter. Not, one imagines, that Trump will be paying a great deal of attention. He has other Spanish speakers more on his mind: down Mexico way.

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