“relations [between Spain and Japan] have … intensified — economically,
politically and culturally”

Everything in balance

Spanish Ambassador to Japan Jorge Toledo Albiñana


Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos by Kageaki Smith

Part of Jorge Toledo Albiñana’s 30-year career at Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been focused on the European Union and European affairs, including roles as director of the Department of European Affairs and G20 in the prime minister’s office, and secretary of state for the EU in the Spanish government. He has also spent part of his career abroad, serving as economic and commercial counselor in India, as first secretary in charge of political and press affairs in Japan and, from 2008 to 2011, as ambassador of Spain to Senegal. He returned to Japan as ambassador in October of last year.

Could you tell me about your time in the cabinet of the secretary general of the European Union?

That was when we were negotiating the then-European constitution, which became the Lisbon Treaty. There was a lot of pressure to change from the Nice system — in which every country had a number of votes and where a certain number of votes constituted the qualified majority — to what is called the double majority system. This is where the weight of each country is defined both by its population and, to reach a qualified majority, you also need a majority of countries.

We were trying to devise a way that would allow us to more or less keep our weight in this new qualified majority voting system. And I came up with an idea, a clause that limits the blocking power of the largest countries in Europe. It says that, even if a country has the ability to block a decision based on the size of its population — a blocking minority is defined as countries with more than 35% of the EU population — you also need a minimum of four countries to have blocking power. That substantially changed the power balance, and we would only accept the double majority system with that clause. It’s referred to as the Toledo Clause on Wikipedia — but I promise you I didn’t write the article.



What did Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Pedro Sánchez discuss at the G20 summit in Osaka at the end of June?

Spain is a permanent guest of the G20. President Sánchez had a very productive bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Abe. They talked about bilateral relations and reciprocal support for some international candidatures. I think it was an interesting and very constructive conversation.

They also spoke about the need to reach an agreement on the communiqué — the G20 leaders’ declaration presented at the conclusion of the summit — because the negotiations were difficult this time. In the end, there was consensus on the text, which was signed by all participants. And a part of the text, the climate change paragraphs, were agreed on by all but one. I think that formula was reasonable — we agreed not to go backwards from other summits. And this, in the current international context, is important.

Could you tell me about the strategic partnership agreement between Spain and Japan?

It was signed when Prime Minister Abe visited Spain last year. It involves a number of dialogues in almost every sector of our bilateral relations — including scientific, economic and commercial — and there are already regular meetings.

There are the different political dialogues, such as on Latin America. And we recently had a bilateral meeting on defence. So, it’s a very intense political relationship, too.

How would you describe the relationship between Spain and Japan?

It’s excellent. It has always been good, but I would say over the past 20 years, relations have improved because they have intensified — economically, politically and culturally. We are in a good moment in our 150 years of diplomatic relations.

We can see a good increase in Spanish investment in Japan, especially in very promising sectors such as renewables, and also in car parts. Last October, a large Spanish car-part manufacturer, Gestamp, opened its first factory in Japan.

You can also see an increase in Japanese investments in Spain over the past several years. I’ve talked to CEOs of many large Japanese companies who have investments in Spain, and they all, without exception, say there is good potential for growth. They are also using those investments as a base, not only for the EU market but for other markets, especially Latin America.

What is happening this year in terms of cultural exchange?

Well, it’s constant. There are plenty of Spanish cultural manifestations in Japan in music, painting, sculpture, dance. To give you a couple of examples, we had the premiere of Puccini’s last opera Turandot last month, staged by the Spanish artistic director Àlex Ollé from La Fura dels Baus, which is a Spanish theatre company. We have a huge Spanish painting exhibition every year, and there is one on Joan Miró in preparation.

Would you like to highlight any specific collaborations between Spain and Japan?

There’s the collaboration of Japanese cities with Spanish Olympic teams. These cities are hosting, or planning to host, Spanish Olympic teams before the Olympics next year to let them train here. Zushi will host the sailing team, and they are already training there now — in the same place and under the same conditions they will be racing in next year. Yamaguchi will host teams for four swimming sports and Nagasaki will host the handball team. It’s a very interesting, and very nice, collaboration.