Why Madrid and Paris Are Growing Closer

By Sagrario Morán (for Safe Democracy)

Sagrario Morán writes on how Sarkozy‘s victory will be good for the PP, bad for the PSOE, and important in bringing Madrid and Paris closer in their cooperation against the terrorism of ETA and Al Qaeda.

Sagrario Morán is a specialist in terrorism, armed conflict, and political violence. She is a professor of political science at the Complutense University of Madrid and at the King Juan Carlos I University. She published the book “PNV-ETA. History of an impossible relationship” about the negotiation of the truce of 1998.

THE VICTORY OF CONSERVATIVE Nicolas Sarkozy in the French Presidential elections has left no doubt about the future of relations with Spain. Although relations between the two countries have historically been full of misunderstandings, the last twenty years have seen the normalization of cooperation between the two European powers.

But arriving at mutual trust has not been easy. The inheritance of the past has greatly weighed on cooperation between Spain and France. Above all, my son, wrote Spanish Emperor Carlos I to his son Felipe II, do not trust the French. They say one thing, and do another. In his anti-French diatribe he was directly referencing King Francois I.

With its exceptions, the twentieth century was a time of continuing distrust. De Gaulle and Franco, both military men, ignored each other completely while in power. The diplomatic silence continued under the conservative governments of Valery Giscard d’Estaing (1974-1981) and Adolfo Suárez (1977-1981). But the complicated relationship and lack of cooperation began to fundamentally endanger Spain. For Madrid, it was essential to maintain a relationship with Paris in order to solve the two principal problems confronting the fledgling democracy in its first years: the terrorism of ETA and membership into the European Community.

At the time, ETA had installed its recruitment, training, and organization camps in Southern France, in a region, which became known as the sanctuary. In fact, the majority of ETA’s leaders were caught on French soil.

The decade of 1980 inaugurated a new phase in relations. In 1981 the Socialists came to power in France under Francois Mitterand (1981-1995).

Spain followed the line of political change with the triumph of socialist Felipe González (1982-1996). The friendship that ignited between the two leaders made them forget their generational difference. Meetings were arranged regularly between the Ministries of both countries to aid in normalizing relations. Deportation, extradition to Spain, and detentions of ETA leaders were, among others, the responses given to Madrid’s petitions for collaboration.

And Spanish membership in the European Community in 1986, after overcoming French obstacles, was symbolic of the definitive establishment of the relationship. From then on, Paris was also interested in communicating with Madrid, and the Spanish media abandoned its harsh anti-French campaigns to rave about the new Spanish-French honeymoon.

This ideological parity lasted into the twenty-first century. In 1995, conservative Jacques Chirac won the Presidential elections in France, provoking a political change. A year later, Spain experienced a political transformation under the leader of the Popular Party, J. María Aznar (1996-2004). The election of President Rodríguez Zapatero, however, interrupted this ideological parity. Yet, the victory of Socialists in Spain did not catch on to the French electorate. It seems that the winds of change move from the Pyrenees down, but not the other way around.

The victory of Sarkozy not only maintains the conservative line in France, but it also signifies some very positive and negative change for Madrid, depending on which party one supports. Sarkozy’s victory is a bad sign for Zapatero’s PSOE party, but a good one for the candidate of the Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy.

But despite the ideological differences between the French and Spanish governments, there is one constant in their relations: anti-terrorist cooperation. In 1988, in a meeting in Donana, Mitterand affirmed to González that cooperation was an irreversible fact that would not change, given that terrorism is a question of states, above the petty differences between governments and people.

In the fight against the terrorism of ETA and Al Qaeda, cooperation is guaranteed and will more than likely be reinforced. Sarkozy was the Minister of the Interior. He has had first hand experience with terrorism and knows about the importance of cooperation to defeat it.