Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Ana Palacio zaps Zap in the Wall Street Journal. (Hat tip: Franco Alemán.)

MADRID -- In some Spanish political circles, people wonder why Condoleezza Rice didn't come to Madrid on her grand European tour last week. But the omission shouldn't surprise anyone. In the 10 months since José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero took office as prime minister, Spain has abandoned a high-profile foreign policy and today relishes in an ill-defined role as a second-rate player on the world stage.

It did not have to turn out this way. When Mr. Zapatero took over last March, Spain was the world's eighth largest economy, the sixth biggest investor worldwide (second in Latin America) and the fifth most popular destination for investment. It was one of the most open economies in the world, boasting a balanced budget and a growth rate double the EU average. It was at the height of its political influence in Europe and the world in recent memory.

In no time, this inspiring picture turned dark. In his first action of note in European affairs -- the final negotiations on the new European Constitution -- Mr. Zapatero negotiated away Spain's position of influence in the EU by diluting its voting powers in the new constitution. In economic policy, he seems driven by an obsession to intervene, from limiting stores' opening hours to backing an attempt to raise the minimum wage. Of course, the economic costs of mismanagement aren't felt by consumers immediately. But the Bank of Spain has revealed that only eight months into Mr. Zapatero's term, direct foreign investment had fallen by 80%.

On the international stage, Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos had the temerity to accuse the previous government, in which I served for two years in his job, of having supported the attempted 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. This accusation was only echoed in the official mouthpiece of Cuba -- which is no doubt grateful for the Zapatero government's efforts to lift EU sanctions against the Castro regime and to keep dissidents out of EU missions on the island. And of course, in one of its first decisions, the new socialist administration last spring rushed a reckless withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq, and later irresponsibly called for other members of the coalition to follow its lead.

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