Sunday, October 26, 2008

Why Can't Spain Be More Like Norway?

The Spanish government seems absolutely determined to be present in the summit to be held next month on the economic crisis. A persistent lobbying operation is in place and members of the government, including Zapatero himself, have expressed public confidence that they will be invited. Even if Spain is not on the initial guest list. It’s all a bit puzzling, the government is setting itself up for a potentially humiliating rebuff; especially given the influence of the Bush administration over who might be invited. Nevertheless, they insist that Spain should be there as recognition of its economic weight – pre 2009 diet.

I don’t have any reason to suppose that the forthcoming summit is going to be anything other than a gigantic backslapping photo opportunity. We are not in a “Bretton Woods” moment where our international financial system is about to be reinvented, and not because things aren´t in a serious enough mess. It’s more to do with the people who are going to be taking the decisions; they’re not up to the job. Can anyone imagine George Bush delivering a slap in the direction of his cherished free market warriors just before he leaves office? I suspect we will get fine sounding words, be told not to worry because the economic system is fundamentally sound and then they will tinker with the system a bit so that worthless assets can only be resold for a maximum of 97000 times their initial value. Maybe that’s all that Zapatero wants, to be in the photo and to be seen as one of the big players.

I have the feeling that the model will be those summits where they still gather to talk of the millennium goals which have been so systematically ignored since they were first set way back in another millennium. All that boring stuff about health, basic education and not dying of starvation. At the last G8 summit they issued a statement about the awful difficulties facing the millions whose food prices had risen so sharply before sitting down to one of the most lavish banquets these summits have ever seen. Be Scandinavian about it. Then you can actually deliver on development commitments instead of just getting together every five years or so to say that of course you maintain your goals and help will probably be forthcoming when circumstances permit and if we didn´t spend all of our money on wars or tax breaks for our crappy financial system and would you mind but we have to go for lunch now. I’m not saying that the Scandinavian model is perfect but you have nations who don’t aspire to be big hitters yet who actually achieve things in a quiet way and without the need to carpet the globe with cluster bombs (so much more efficient than those outmoded anti-personnel mines).

Spain tried to be one of the big boys club under Aznar, and look where that led us! Aznar himself never made any bones about the fact that his interest in the Iraqi invasion was purely so that he could leave office strutting the international stage. His party still tries to suggest that Spain’s international influence has declined since the country withdrew its troops from Iraq. Bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan or guaranteeing the highest opium harvest ever seen may open the door to the international clubs, but Spain would probably do more good internationally and be able to act in a more autonomous way if it behaved more like a Mediterranean Norway.

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