Javier Rupérez has been Spanish Ambassador to Washington (2000-2004), to NATO (1981-1982) and to the OSCE (1979-1981). He was the UN Assistant Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Security Council Counter Terrorism Committee (2004-2007).
He was active in the Christian Democratic anti-Franco movements in the sixties and seventies, becoming involved in the transitional process from dictatorship to democracy. He was, as a Senator and a Congressman, a member of the Spanish Cortes from 1979 to 2000. He was Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and of the Defense Committee in the House of Representatives from 1996 to 2000. He was also Secretary General and then President of the Christian Democratic International, as well as Chairman of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
A Law and Journalism graduate of the Complutense University in Madrid, he is now the President of the consulting firm Ruperez International LLC and divides his time between Madrid and Washington DC. Author of several books about national and international relations and policies, as well as a novel and a volume of short stories, he regularly publishes his columns in the Spanish national daily ABC and teaches International Relations and Conflict Management at the American University in Washington DC and the Francisco de Vitoria University, the Villanueva University and CEU San Pablo University in Madrid. He is married to Rakela Cerovic and their daughter Laura will be graduating from Georgetown University this year.
We had the privilege of conducting this exclusive interview with Javier, a USEC member, to get his impressions on a number of current issues in different domains.
1) As a Spaniard living in the US since 2000, actively participating in the bilateral relations first as Ambassador and later in other key roles in organizations like the UN, you have had a unique experience. What can you say about the evolution of the relations between Spain and the US in the last decade and what can be expected for the near future?
Spain and the US share a long list of common interests and values, as shown in their bilateral security and military agreements and in the multilateral common partnership as members and allies in NATO. Domestic political circumstances in either country could somehow alter the quality and the quantity of the relationship at any given time but never in my experience of the last ten years, and even before, have I noticed a drastic change in our bilateral relations. It is very much in the shared perception of our goals that I foresee, and certainly wish, the continuation of that close cooperation.
2) One of the recent areas of concern in the commercial arena is the significant increase of the tariffs imposed by the US on a variety of EU products, some already effective and others expected soon. Clearly this situation is creating a lot of uncertainty for many sectors and key Spanish exports like olives, olive oil, wine and others. What is your view of this situation and what can the impacted companies do to minimize the damage?
I am a convinced multilateralist and a decided advocate of national and international free trade, as decided and ruled by international organizations and in particular by the WTO. “Trade wars” and tariffs belong to another and darker age and in the short, medium and long term end up affecting, in a very negative way, those who impose them and those who suffer from them. There are no winners in that battle. We in Ruperez International are aware of the disruptions caused at the moment by American policies in the Spanish and European agricultural sectors, and are doing everything possible within our reach to minimize their impact and to eventually facilitate a better and healthier understanding for all the parties concerned. In the meantime, and while looking for solutions to the impact, Spanish companies should try to engage the service and consumer sectors in America who are also suffering from the rising tariffs and retaliatory wars. We have been developing a number of different approaches to that question and we feel something could be done for the benefit of all concerned, in very much the same way we dealt with the so called “Mediterranean fruit fly” in Spanish mandarins being imported to the US. I was the Spanish Ambassador in Washington at the time and we found a way to protect our exports without causing damage to the local growers.
3) 2020 is a crucial electoral year in the US, with elections for both the President and the House of Representatives, which will have a profound impact for the entire world given some of the key global challenges at hand. If a Democrat were to be elected as the new President, how do you think this would influence US trade with the EU and how much would this depend on the selected candidate?
As of now, the “soul” of the Democratic Party seems divided between the radicals of “democratic socialism” and the moderates of a more conventional ideological centrism. So far, neither of the two have approached the question of international trade although, drawing from past and recent experiences, it is to be expected that any Democrat as President would, as President Obama already tried, sign a free trade agreement with the EU. It is not difficult to presume that candidates like Biden, Klobuchar, Bloomberg or Buttigieg would try and follow that line. I am not so sure about the others, frankly. Socialism on the left and similar forms of statist temptations from the right have always been on the side of protectionism: “trade wars” and tariffs, for short.
4) As a person with many decades of international experience in key roles around the globe, including a position as Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations in New York, we need to ask you about your opinion regarding the recent wave of nationalism and unilateralism illustrated by multiple examples like trade wars, Brexit and others. What do you think are the common underlying factors that may have led to this trend and how do you think it will evolve in the future?
It would be rather difficult to try and resume in a few lines the causes for the present crisis. Dozens of books have attempted to do so during the last few years and they have proved to be more precise in describing the consequences, which are all around for everyone to see: uncertainty, tribalism, lack of trust in the democratic processes, crisis of the rule of law, etc. The 2008 world economic crisis has been rightly mentioned as one, if not the main, reason for the unchaining of events but other and earlier elements should be considered as well. While the wealthy and prosperous West has been bathing in the glory of its own success, without consideration for the sacrifice and hard work needed to achieve it, the vast universe of the downtrodden in the East learned how to improve basic living conditions by having recourse to neo-authoritarian and neo- capitalist regimes. In both cases, virtue and morals were condemned to oblivion by the powerful few, while fear about the future became the rule of the day. Many believe to have found the lost security in the return to the ancient tribe, while the “extractive elites” (Azimou and Robinson dixit) dug into nationalism as the best way to foster their own economic and power interests. If we add to this mess the loss of confidence in politics and politicians, we confront the results: Brexit, Catalonian separatism, America first, “illiberal” democracies, etc. All of it, however, should be read as a warning, not as an impending catastrophe, provided lessons are learned and decisions are made mainly about those who we want to represent us. The electoral results are in the hands of the citizens, in our hands. We have the sacred and enlightened right to vote.
5) Spain has had a significant number of political issues in the last few years, including the need for multiple general elections in a short period of time as well as the conflict in Catalonia. How do you think these situations have been perceived in the US and how are they impacting US investments in Spain?
Spain is not the only European country to have recently suffered from instability in the process of putting together a government. Long gone are, for the time being, the moments when the alternation of two major parties allowed a predictable political journey without major surprises or unexpected course changes. Internal ideological and tactical crises within the major traditional parties both in the right and in the left, plus the results of the 2008 economic upheaval, have brought about this new scenario of uncertainty, which is usually resolved through the formation of a coalition. The problem Spain is facing right now is that the coalition put together by the Spanish Socialist Party is likely to give rise to some concern among our foreign friends and allies. It is to be hoped that the disparate conglomerate of political alignments, and the consequent barriers built up by the opposition political parties and the citizens alliances, will avoid economic or political turns against the fundamental and traditional links that have existed for decades between Spain, the US and the Western world in general. The separatist movement in Catalonia has so far not provoked the reduction of US investments in Catalonia or in Spain at large. And American institutions have been unanimously favorable to the cause of a single, indivisible Spanish territorial unity, very much as they are in favor of a single, indivisible territorial integrity of the United States of America. It is also true that the Catalonian separatist movement has brought very negative consequences to the Catalonian economy: dozens of national or international companies and corporations based in Catalonia have decided to move their headquarters and activities to other areas of Spain. But, all things being said, and recognizing the seriousness of the lawless attacks of the Catalonian separatists against the unity and freedom of all Spaniards, the main economic concern for Spain coming from the US is not Catalonia but the tariffs and the “trade war”.
6) The Hispanic community is already the largest minority in the US, its size is expected to reach 30% of the overall population by 2050. How can this factor be used as a business opportunity by companies from Spain trying to enter the US market?
The US is the number one recipient of Spanish investments abroad, amounting to almost 80 billion euros, according to the latest figures. Around 700 Spanish companies in the US generate 75,000 direct jobs and approximately 300,000 indirect jobs. Those figures obviously include both Hispanic and non-Hispanic businesses. The progressively larger Hispanic community offers new opportunities for Spanish businesses based on a new and renewed approach of Spanish public and private bodies to the citizens of Hispanic origin in the US. Both the common language and a significant part of the common history should be the basis for an approach to the Hispanic communities in the US through cultural and economic tools. In Ruperez International we are developing a comprehensive system in those directions, with the purpose of facilitating channels of communication between Hispanic groups and Spanish companies targeting investments in the US in that area.
7) For some time, you have been teaching at several Universities on both Spain and the US. What are the main differences you have noticed in terms of the educational systems and methods?
I have been transiting from one to the other without major hiccups or differences. Both systems rely very much on the professor´s personal ability to transmit knowledge and experiences as well as on the well-chosen bibliographic readings. Both underline the need to engage the student in an attitude of participation and critical learning. Both demand from the student a capacity to elaborate and reflect on the teachings, not so much on the mechanical repetition of the class syllabus. Both invite the professor to indicate to the students the ways and venues for their future careers and endeavors. Both require an ample use of graphics and different types of visual illustration. And in my particular case, some of my classes in Spain are given in English to a national and international audience. Fortunately, my teachings across the Atlantic follow very much the same systems and methods.