“The pandemic has shown that a lot can be achieved if EU member states work together”

Planning carefully, collaborating closely

State Secretary for Global Spain Manuel Muñiz Villa


APRIL 2021 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain

An expert in innovation, disruption, and global governance, Manuel Muñiz Villa was appointed to the post of state secretary for Global Spain in January 2020. Prior to this posting, he was dean of the Global and Public Affairs School at IE University in Madrid. He has also given policy advice to governments, as well as to such organisations as the United Nations, the G20, and the EU Commission.

How has Spain responded to the coronavirus pandemic?

Since March of last year, Spain has mobilised an unprecedented amount of public resources — €216 billion — to strengthen our health system, as well as to support our social services to protect employees, self-employed workers, and SMEs, with a focus on those who are most vulnerable. Furthermore, a minimum basic income has been introduced, along with several measures to prevent evictions, forbid dismissals, and help people pay the rent.

Spain has created the Plan for Recovery, Transformation, and Resilience. Over the next three years, the plan will mobilise 50% of the resources that we receive from the EU’s long-term budget, referred to as the Next Generation European Union. Green investment will account for 37% and digitalisation for 33% of the plan’s budget.

We are confident that this will help attract new investment, so the recovery plan will provide excellent opportunities for new investors. With this in mind, we are already working on the establishment of new bilateral investment platforms with sovereign wealth funds.

How do you hope the EU will evolve as a result of the challenges it has been facing?

This crisis shows how important it is for the EU to gain strategic and technological autonomy, as well as to improve the connection between the Common Security and Defence Policy and other frameworks of the bloc’s foreign activities — such as trade, development aid, migration policy, climate action, and technology — which will better project the EU’s geopolitical view.

Global challenges need effective governance and global coordination, so the EU needs to seize the moment to relaunch multilateralism and produce tangible results, perhaps through the creation of a global mechanism for crisis management.
The Next Generation EU — which amounts to €750 billion — is a key instrument within the EU recovery plan. It is unprecedented, not only for its size, but also because it will allow the EU, for the first time, to look for market funding, which is something innovative. For Spain, one of the main strengths of the Next Generation EU is that it will reinforce the process of the euro becoming a reference currency.

The Conference on the Future of Europe, set to begin work on 9 May, could become a valuable opportunity to think about what kind of Europe we want and to put the citizens at the centre of that discussion. The conference should focus on how we can improve EU policies by prioritising the EU Strategic Agenda of June 2019 and the issues that most interest our citizens.

Among other things, we need to complete the Economic and Monetary Union; promote R&D and innovation, and mobility and tourism; and develop an effective migratory policy based on management and not on reaction.

The pandemic has shown that a lot can be achieved if EU member states work together.

How would you describe the relationship between Spain and Japan?

It is one of Spain’s most important Asian partnerships. This was highlighted in October 2018 when then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid an official visit to Spain and signed the bilateral Strategic Partnership Agreement with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. This relationship has also been boosted by the EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, which entered into force in early 2019.

Our ties have been accompanied by a steady growth of economic and commercial bilateral flows and ever-increasing mutual interest in our respective cultures.

We are also noticing an extraordinary interest in Japan from important Spanish companies, namely in the fields of renewable energy, financial sector digitalisation, and infrastructure development in third countries.

Our well-established partnership in international organisations and fora is bound to grow even closer as political meetings, sectoral dialogues, and official and working visits, resume their regularity once travel restrictions are lifted. The fact that Spain, the EU, and Japan share the same basic values — of democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law, an international rules-based order, free trade, and multilateralism — is the best possible foundation for common action in the international arena.

Could you give some details about Spain’s Foreign Action Strategy 2021–2024 that was announced last month?

The purpose of our Foreign Action Strategy is to provide a roadmap for Spain’s foreign policy over the next four years. It deals not only with the typical areas of foreign policymaking, but also with the role of a wider array of state and non-state actors, such as civil society and academia.

The strategy starts with an overview of the current situation in international politics and the long-term trends that are shaping it. We posit that the world order, born after the Second World War and the Cold War, is going through a moment of profound structural change that could confront our societies with serious threats and challenges, if we fail to interpret its scope and react accordingly. The strategy identifies four forces — interdependence, complexity, speed, and uncertainty — that have led to four worldwide fractures that affect the economy, the environment, technology, and citizens’ confidence in their institutions.

These fractures are connected and cannot be fixed separately. Also, most of them cannot be fixed at a national level, as more problems tend to cross national borders — look at climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the pandemic, for instance.

With this as a starting point, the strategy sets down what Spain’s response should and will be. It structures our foreign policy’s lines of action around four axes — human rights, an inclusive economy, a sustainable planet, and strengthened global governance. It also establishes four guiding principles: the commitment to “more Europe”, with a more integrated and autonomous EU; the promotion of “better multilateralism”, in order to exploit our country’s role as a facilitator of better global governance; the promotion of a “strategic bilateralism”; and the deepening of our “solidarity commitment”, in accordance with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In order to achieve this, our strategy proposes measures to improve the human and material resources of our foreign service, pushing onwards with our ambition to turn it into a fully modern, agile, and digitised foreign service, reinforced by tools of public diplomacy and by the input of economic, cultural, educational, scientific, and technological actors.

“The fact that Spain, the EU, and Japan share the same basic values … is the best possible foundation for common action in the international arena”