1774) Interview with the Spanish Ambassador De la Peña

Spanish Ambassador to Turkey Luis Felipe Fernández de la Peña expressed his opinions about a broad range of issues from the evaluation of relations between Spain and Latin America to the Spanish attitude toward the Turkey’s EU perspective via an interview with the researchers, Fatma Yilmaz and Hasan Selim Ozertem, from International Strategic Research Organization (ISRO). . .

In the interview, expressing the historical perspective of the Latin America- Spain relations, Spanish Ambassador Mr. de la Peña stated that the relations with this region made contribution to Spain during and after the EU membership of Spain. He also added that the relations between Spain and Latin America in the EU context could be an example for Turkey’s EU membership process in the context of its relations with the Central Asia. Moreover, Mr. de la Peña replied the questions of ISRO researchers about the Spanish point of view on Turkey’s EU bid….

The full text of the interview is given below:

Q: As Spain does in terms of Latin America, Turkey has strong bonds with Central Asia. I think Spain may represent a good example with its relations with Latin American Countries (LAC) for Turkey. In this context, can you tell us about in what place Latin America stands in Spain’s foreign policy?

De la Peña: You are right in pointing to this connection. I have already thought about this parallel between Spain’s former empire and Turkey’s former empire and area of influence in Central Asia. There are some similarities among them. In Europe there are countries which are so to say more uni-dimensional. These are not many, since Europe has a rich history of expansion throughout the world. Discovery has always been the dynamics of Europe. Plus ultra is a Latin motto meaning beyond, always beyond and further. According to some thinkers, the expansive force, the spirit of discovery, the perpetual reinvention of itself, make up the essence of Europe. In our Continent there are also countries more multi-dimensional, particularly those with imperial legacies. Spain is both a European and an Atlantic country. In that sense we coincide with Great Britain.

The wars of independence in the new world started in 1810s, at the time of the invasion of Spain by Napoleon. The invasion caused the central authority to collapse in peninsular Spain and its dominions overseas. The process of independence was traumatic, not peaceful. Spain was able to keep the last remnants of its empire until the end of 19th century. As a consequence of the war with the US, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines were lost.

Spain had ample time to reconstruct the relations with its former colonies on an equal footing. During the Spanish negotiations with the European Economic Community (EEC) in the 1980s, a sort of false dilemma between Europe and Latin America was formulated. The two dimensions were considered by some people to be incompatible, while others thought that they were perfectly compatible, and even complementary, as history has demonstrated. I remember having a discussion by that time in La Havana with a famous Latin American writer. He was reproaching me that we were forgetting Latin America. I replied him that, on the contrary, within the European Union we would not only preserve our Latin American dimension, but we would also be able to contribute to build bridges between the two Continents.

Q: Now Spain is one of the biggest investors in Latin America.

D.P.: Yes. In the past, Spain had developed with Latin America a relationship which was more political, cultural, and sometimes even rhetoric. By the end of the century, the notion of establishing an Ibero American Community, a kind of Commonwealth, was floating. It vas created afterwards, but by that time, the economic relations were weak. It was only during the 1980s-90s that Spain made an extraordinary effort and began to heavily invest in Latin America. It became the first investor in some countries, and the second after the United States in some others. The Spanish companies have invested about one hundred billion dollars up to now in Latin America.

This strong involvement has helped some Spanish firms to become real global actors. Thus, through our accession to the EU we were able to combine our traditional political and cultural commitment to Latin America with a new and decisive economic commitment. There was no incompatibility, on the contrary there was complementarity. On the other side, we contributed to the development of a stronger relationship between Brussels and Latin America, in particular with some groupings like MERCOSUR, trying to promote the development of free trade areas with them.

On the other side, the fact that we do have this relevant Latin American dimension has enhanced our status within the European Union, since we bring to the EU more than Spain itself, also its broader projection. You can see that in the field of language and culture. Spanish is the second international language after English. It is spoken by more than 400 million people in the world, 50 million of them in the US, where they are becoming an increasing economic and political factor.

Spanish is growing in importance as a language and as a culture. Precisely in those days, a major Congress of the Language is being held in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, with the participation of all the Academies of Spain and Iberoamerican countries. It is also an occasion to render homage to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The Spanish Academy is publishing one of his works, significantly the second time it has done it, after Cervantes. The Academies have also decided to issue a pan-Hispanic dictionary and a new Grammar. In the new context, Spain only accounts for 10% of the Hispanic linguistic world

You can see an example of what I am saying in the Cervantes Institute of Istanbul. Latin American embassies in Turkey use the Cervantes to present books, to display cultural exhibitions. It is also used for the promotion of peninsular languages other than Castilian: Catalan, Basque, Galician. It symbolizes the plurality of the Hispanic world, representing the cultures of Spain, not only Castilian, but also, Catalan, Basque and Galician, and of course the brotherly countries of Latin America.

Q: When I was making a research on Ibero-America I encountered with an interesting organization, which is called Ibero-American Summit. And, I found that it has become a General Secretariat. What is the future and aims of this organization?

D.P.: The sense of community has always been there. Already by the end of 19th century, thinkers and politicians were reflecting on how to materialize it, but they were unable to articulate it institutionally. Finally, during the 1980s a consensus was reached to establish the Comunidad Iberoamericana (Ibero American Community), including Portugal and Brazil.

The Communidad Iberoamericana is being progressively deepened and strengthened. One of the latest developments has been the setting up of a General Secretariat, which prepares the yearly Summits. The summits are celebrated in one of the Iberoamerican countries, with the presence of all Iberoamerican Head of States, including the Spanish King and the Spanish Prime Minister. It takes time but the process it is being consolidated, because we share a broad range of common interest. We are part of the same civilization, the same language and the same culture; we have blood, family links with all of them. They are very close to us. The Spanish media follow the news in Latin America as if they were domestic.

Q: What is the main aim of this organization and what could be its future? Can further steps be taken? What types of projects can be carried on?

D.P: This is the aim, to take further steps. It is a process of progressive coordination and concert . The political dimension, democracy and the rule of law, human rights, is given a particular emphasis. It is a common platform for political, economic and social dialogue and cooperation. Immigration issues are also being incorporated. Spain is one of the main destinations for Latin American immigration. Issues of education, youth, and poverty eradication are also the kind of practical things can be dealt with by the Community. A Secretary General has been appointed, Enrique Iglesias, from Uruguay, now living in Madrid. So, you have there a reference that might be of some use for Turkey in order to develop a framework of relations with the Turkic world.

Q: Apart from the relations with Latin America, if requires to look at ones with the European Union, it seems that the EU shares the burden of Spain in terms of immigration. How do you evaluate this?

D.P.: Spain has become a net receiver of immigration in the last years. Things have dramatically changed. Traditionally we had been exporters of workforce, and all of a sudden have become net importers. In less than ten years, we have received up to four million immigrants, almost ten percent of the population. It is really a revolutionary phenomenon. Spain is one of the entrance doors to Europe. You might be able to see every year the painful images of Sub-Saharan immigrants trying to reach the Spanish shores.

Spain is trying to develop a common immigration policy within the European Union. In the past, we have been quite active in contributing to shape some new policies, like the notion of European citizenship, or the Justice and Home affairs framework. We were also the inspirers of the so called Cohesion policy, providing for the distribution of funds to compensate regional imbalances within the Union. Now, we are trying to give shape to a common immigration policy. The first thing is to build up the necessary political will. Immigration is a common problem that has to be confronted together. We have also to face the humananitarian challenge, and the dire consequences of many Sub-Saharans being drawn in the sea while trying to reach Spain. Through the efforts of Commissioner Frattini, an embryonic institution, Frontex, has been created. Frontex, a Latinized word meaning border, has been able to deploy a European air and naval component close to Senegal and the Gulf of Guinea, with the participation of some five or six European countries. We have to try to prevent this human traffic in its source, because when they arrive to Spain or to some other European country it is normally too late. At the same time, we are working hard to negotiate readmission agreements with all those countries, and to include a related clause in the Cooperation Agreements they have with the EU. They will reinforce the incentives to take measures against illegal immigration. We are in the forefront of these efforts, which will also give an answer to the demands of the citizens of Europe. If you follow the Euro-barometer, you would see that they feel that the European Union should do more in the field of immigration, in countering terrorism, or in building up a foreign and security policy.

Q: What do you think about the different formations in the Union? Will we see Spain, for instance, in a Mediterranean alliance or formation within unity of the Union?

D.P.: Spain is a full participant in all advanced areas of integration within the Union, in Schengen, in the Euro Area, in Justice and Home affairs. Spain is a strong integrationist country. Considering the old member States, you have, crudely speaking, integrationists and inter-governmentalist countries. There has been always an overt or latent division around the concept itself of the European project, and about it’s so called “finalité”. Integrationists believe in the need of a political project for the Union, and Spain has always been among them.

Q: But it seems that the member countries are jealous about sharing their political power. For instance especially in terms of the second pillar and third pillar, there are not so common policies.

D.P: This is why I am referring to countries which are integrationist, and countries which are inter-governmentalist. The EU is ruled by the principle of subsidiarity, so that it should be active in those fields in which common action is more efficient than individual action. The global challenges are outnumbering the national challenges. The principle of subsidiarity offers a good criterion to try to differentiate between fields for collective action and domains for national action. This is at the end of the day the secret of the European Union: how to combine diversity with unity. Diversity refers primarily to national identities, and cultural habitats and differences. Unity means having common action in those fields in which the EU is better than the national states.

The EU cannot follow the pace of those countries which are skeptical about further integration. Europe is now undergoing a crisis because of the non ratification of the Constitutional Treaty. I am sure that it will overcome this crisis by 2009-2010, and then it will begin again to think again about its future.

Even the Nice Treaty contains formulae to engage in reinforced cooperation. The idea of having to resort to some sort of variable speed has always been part of the reflection. The countries not wishing to follow, will not follow; it is primarily up to them. There are several alternanatives within the EU: opting in, opting out. An important thing in any event is to preserve the integrity of the EU’s acqis.

Q: Will we see a multi-tier Europe in the future?

D. P.: We have already a multi-tier Europe. Not all member States are part of the Schengen arrangements or the Euro zone.

Q: Does it mean that there can be other zones within the Union?

D.P.: Yes, for instance for defense and security policy.

Q: What is the opinion of Spanish people on Turkey’s EU membership in political terms and public sense?

D. P.: Spain is a firm supporter of the European bid of Turkey. The Spanish governments, from the People’s Party or the Socialist Party, have consistently favored Turkey’s EU perspective. There is a consensus among the major political forces. Turkey’s negotiations have not been politicized in Spain; they have not been brought into the political domestic debate. We do believe that Turkey would reinforce the Mediterranean dimension of the Union. With the latest enlargements, the Union expanded towards the North and the East; now it is time to strengthen its Southern dimension, where from the main challenges are coming, not from the East or the North. The accession of Turkey to the EU would be a very important factor in rebalancing the Union.

Q: During your accession process in 1980s, what kind of difficulties did you face? As others, Spain also experienced a transformation period. Naturally, you had to face with some opposition from some sectors during this period. How did you persuade the people to the fact that the membership is in the end in favor of them?

D.P.: Every process of accession is a painful process. There was at the same time a lot of enthusiasm. Spain had a modern society in sociological terms, a modern market economy, before having a modern democracy. So, Spain had already a modern society, with a robust middle class, an economy which has been modernizing since the 1950s, but was not eligible to become a member of the EU because it had an authoritarian political regime. When this changed in 1975, Spain was able to apply. Economy and society had been going ahead. The negotiations to enter the EEC were met with strong resistance from sectors reluctant to change and fearful of being the losers in the process of accession. But the overriding conviction was that it would be good for Spain to be in the Union, which was its natural place. It represented the reencountering with Europe, from where we have been isolated through the years of dictatorship.

Q: As known, Turkey and Spain are the parts of a project called Alliance of Civilizations. Is there a possibility of turning the cooperation environment created during the project of Alliance of Civilizations into a real cooperation between two countries?

D. P.: Definitely. In a way, Spain and Turkey are recovering some of the time they had lost in the past. We were not able to establish diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Empire until very late, by the end of the 18th century. The old nation states in Europe had done it two centuries before. We had been arch-rivals and enemies, and we only formalized the peace between the two countries in 1782.So, in a sense we are now recovering the time we have lost in our common history. Our relations are improving and becoming more and more solid in bilateral terms, in the EU framework, and also at the global stage. The initiative of the Alliance of Civilizations has shown that we are also able to work together in the international arena. The two Prime Ministers have stood behind the inception and the promotion of the initiative. We are now actively working in New York to prepare the second stage in its development. This is something that we have been forging together, Turkey and Spain. The aim, of course is to make it as universal as possible.

10 May 2007
Fatma Yilmaz and Hasan Selim Ozertem
Copyright © 2005 Journal of Turkish Weekly

A Mediterranean Chat With A Spanish Couple

Felipe Fernandez de la Pena, the Spanish ambassador to Turkey, has served in countries that showed positive developments on the way to the EU.

 This content mirrored from TurkishArmenians  Site © Click For Larger Image The Spanish ambassador to Turkey Felipe Fernandez de la Pena and his wife Yolanda Garcia Del Nero are in the backyard of the Spanish Embassy in Ankara.

He hopes this can be repeated once more. He and his spouse, Yolanda Garcia Del Nero, point to the similarities between Turkey and Spain, including physical appearance. Ambassador de la Pena is very proud of the position of the Spanish language in the world. He is also proud of being a neighbor to former President Süleyman Demirel. Ambassador de la Pena prefers cooperation instead of competition when it comes to tourism. The Pena couple has slightly different thinking when it comes to bullfighting. The ambassador respects it, and Ms. Del Nero likes it. They both would like to have a Spanish restaurant in Ankara although Spanish cuisine is little bit difficult to export.

“İnşallah,” says Ambassador de la Pena, with a very big smile on his face just like his wife. What makes him say “İnşallah” (God willing) is in answer to my question on whether he brings luck to the countries he has been to as ambassador because eventually those countries showed positive developments in their relations with the EU.

“Those countries I have been to as an ambassador have one common dominator: They were either candidates to the EU or about to be, like Croatia, which is a candidate now, or Slovenia, which was a candidate but now is a member,” he says.

When I ask him if it is true that in the old days when Spaniards were going to other parts of Europe they used to say, “I am going to Europe,” Mr. Ambassador says that they always considered themselves a part of Europe. But before entering the EU, some Spaniards had this habit, he adds.

“In a way, there was a sort of identification between Europe and the European Union. The same happened to some member states. When they were candidates, this kind of separation between the broader Europe and the small Europe existed,” he says.

I’m conducting my “Mediterranean chat” with the de la Pena family in their residence on Güniz Street in Ankara over a cup of coffee. Their residence reflects Spanish culture combined with carpets collected from different parts of Turkey, as well as from Iran and Azerbaijan. The decor definitely gives a homey feeling, as Ms. Del Nero points out, in addition to the cherry tree in their very green garden. They are neighbors with former President Süleyman Demirel. Mr. Ambassador says that it is a privilege and honor to be neighbors with him. “I admire him greatly. He represents something special in the politics and history of this country. He was prime minister so many times, and his political career was crowned as president. He has a very vivid memory; he is a kind of living monument,” he says.

The Mediterranean is our common denominator

During our chat, apart from finding out what is common between Spain and Turkey, I discover personal similarities with Ms. Del Nero. Sometimes when I am abroad, people think I’m Spanish, and Ms. Del Nero says that in Turkey, people sometimes think she is a Turk.

“Many people tell me we are very similar. We are very close. There is something, I am sure,” she says. Her husband continues: “There are many things in parallel between Spain and Turkey. Not just in history through being former big empires, but also modernization in all dimensions of life, politics and economy. In the end, there is a center of empathy between the people of the two countries. But there isn’t that much knowledge about each other. Spanish culture isn’t present in this county like in some Western countries, so we need to highlight the existence of those parallels. There are definitely physical parallels and, of course, the Mediterranean vein, which is a common culture. This Mediterranean style of life varies from region to region, but it is in every Mediterranean country.”

However, as Mr. Ambassador puts it, having some similarities and being Mediterranean countries does not make Spain and Turkey competitors in the field of tourism. He prefers to describe the relationship as one of cooperation.

“Every country competes with the other in the field of tourism. All countries are competitors because they all have and want visitors to their particular country. For instance, Spain is not the first but the second in the world; the first one is France. But the tourism industry continues to grow. Every year, there are more and more tourists. Some countries which are highly populated are beginning to visit other countries in large numbers, creating more tourists. So there are many tourists. The industry keeps growing at a vigorous rate every year. And I do not like this vision of competition. I prefer cooperation because the tourism industry is a global network. We should try to cooperate, not only compete. Spanish tourists are visiting Turkey. There is an increasing number of Spanish tourism companies heavily investing in Turkey. They will invest more in the future as they benefit from the expansion in Turkish tourism. This is a good combination. This is not a zero sum game,” he says.

When I point out that Turkey can be considered a Mediterranean culture but that we don’t have this wonderful habit of “siesta,” Mr. Ambassador says neither do they.

“Not any longer. This is a luxury we cannot allow ourselves any more. It belongs to the old days when the economy was different. The setup of society was different. Now you have a better administration of your time. Although it was really healthy: a short nap to break up the day and recuperate to face the rest of the day. But we are losing this variation which belongs to past,” he says.

Apart from being concerned about the lack of siesta, I also mention that in Turkey there are no Spanish restaurants. The ambassador says it would be very nice but that Spanish cuisine is something difficult to export. Yet I agree with Ms. Del Nero that there are some Spanish women’s clothing companies at work in Turkey. She says she likes Turkish fashion very much, especially those elements which reflect the legacy of the past using traditional designs. She adds that she has a collection of traditional Turkish jewelry.

Every generation has its Don Quixote

When our chat comes to Don Quixote, I complain that my hero is perceived as someone stupid and I ask what the perception of the Spaniards about him is. Mr. Ambassador says every generation tries to give a new interpretation of the character.

“You have the same perception as many Spaniards do. It is very a rich book; it was the first modern novel. It has many layers of meaning, so it becomes a stereotype. Don Quixote is the idealistic, the utopian guy, but he has a counterpart, Sancho Panza, who is the second character in the book. Panza represents the contrast. He is really down to earth, his feet are on the ground, full of common sense -- but he is very much attracted to the idealism of Don Quixote. At the end, he becomes the most brilliant character in this book, which is the book of books,” he says.

Ambassador de la Pena is also very proud of the author of Don Quixote, Cervantes. According to him, Cervantes is the king of Spanish letters. He reminds me that the international institution responsible for promoting Spanish language and culture is named after the renowned Spanish author. He says the Cervantes Institute is also doing fine in Turkey.

“We have been opening Cervantes Institutions all over the world because the Spanish language, by now, is the second international language. It is spoken by more than 450 million people [in the world]. The trend is increasing. The projections are incredible. It is the mother tongue in more than 20 countries. It is the second language in some important countries like the US. It is becoming a force over there, in all senses of the word, economically and politically. In Brazil, they adapted Spanish as a second educational language. Thousands of Spanish teachers are needed in Brazil alone. It is a booming phenomenon. The Cervantes Institutes are trying to cope with this demand. We are spreading. We have approximately 70 institutions all over the world. We have to reach much higher numbers. Turkey is no exception to this general interest in Spanish language and culture, which is not only the culture of Spain itself but also Latin America. It goes from music to lifestyle. It really fits into globalization. The Cervantes Institute is achieving great success in Istanbul,” he says.

To mention music and Istanbul reminds me of the “Ladino” music of Turkey, the music of the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain and who settled in the Ottoman Empire. Ms. Del Nero says she likes Ladino music very much. The ambassador adds: “We listen to Ladino music and we have been talking to Ladino speakers. They brought the language with them. So it is a language fixed or crystallized, frozen in 1492. Afterwards, they added new words. It is a nostalgic, melancholic language. We can understand it perfectly. But some words can easily become a pain. Many of them no longer exist in modern Spanish conversation. It is very nice. They are very much attached to their roots. They even keep the key to the house they were forced to leave many centuries ago. We take as much care of them as we can. We consider them in a way as Spanish citizens.”

The ambassador adds that Spain is a product of many legacies like the Muslim presence that existed in Spain once upon a time. “Spain is a product of many legacies. It has a very rich history. One of them is the Arab influence in southern Spain. It was a defining moment for Arab culture and civilization; it was a golden age during the caliphate of Cordoba. It played a very important role for connecting east and west in terms of culture. The old classical Greek texts were brought in and translated at Toledo. They formed the basis for the scholastic system, theology, metaphysics and the intellectual basis for the European Renaissance. It was a cultural bridge. This transmission left important marks on all over mosaic of Spain which is made up of different layers of cultures and civilizations,” he says.

Spain as the homeland of festivals and bullfighting

When Turks hear the word Spain mentioned, they automatically start to think of football. Ms. Del Nero is not interested in football that much; neither is her husband. He says, like everyone, he used to play football and, if the game is good, likes to watch it. But the second thing Spain reminds Turks of is their appetite for festivals. The Pena couple, who have known each other for 15 years, say they like the traditional festivals. However, they have not been to the “tomato festival,” which they say is relatively new. When it comes to the most traditional festival of all in Spain, namely bullfighting, they have slightly differing attitudes. Ms. Del Nero enjoys bullfighting, and Ambassador de la Pena says that he respects it.

Ms. Del Nero comes from a family long interested in bulls and bullfighting. They bought and reared bulls. She grew up in this environment so she has no problem with bullfighting. She says that in order to understand it one has to see it; one has to be there. The Ambassador agrees that it is different seeing it on television to actually being there.

“You can see it on TV, but you will miss its directness, the ambience,” he says and refers to the famous American writer Ernest Hemingway, who was not only a lifelong fan of bullfighting but also wrote about it.

“I understand the beauty and even the cultural depth of it. I respect it very much although I don’t like it as much as my wife. The most important moment is the killing of the bull; it is called the supreme moment. There are countries in which the bull is not killed. It has to be a noble fight between the toreador [bullfighter] and the bull; it ends in a ritual sacrifice of the bulls which are only bred for the bullfighting festivals. This is the purpose. It is a very deep issue with a lot of background and fascination. I respect it. When the toreador is a really good one, I like it very much and I am more receptive. I understand the people who are critical of bullfighting. But it should not be disqualified without knowing it better and without trying to find out what is really behind it,” he says.

Note: We would like express our deepest gratitude to the ambassador and his wife for their patience as we had to re-hold a portion of the interview.



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