Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
Dr. Francesc Granell Trias (Professor of Economics, University of Barcelona; Spain)

25.09.2011 - Interview conducted by Souad Amiri & Clara López Pruñonosa

Q1. What is the link between your presence here and cultural diplomacy? You talked about integration in connection to Mediterranean countries and marginalized European courtiers, specifically in making the connection between the north and the south of the Mediterranean.

In fact, we have quite a long history of cultural relations between the north and the south. One only needs to look at the history of Spain through the centuries. In the 15th century, various tribes from the east, including a substantial Muslim population, lived in Spain. Additionally, in our history, we have a Roman and Greek tradition, as well as a Jewish tradition before the infamous expulsion in the 15th century, which resulted in Spanish-speaking Jewish communities around the world and particularly in the Mediterranean.  Thus, it was only natural for Spain to host and promote the Barcelona Process with Italy in 1995-1995. For Spain, it was clear that it was a necessity to create cultural foundation between Spain and the Mediterranean; to build on historical links and to create new ones. which led to the creation of the University for the Mediterranean in Granada.

Through cultural links and cultural exchanges, Spain hopes to foster a better situation for peace and security in the Mediterranean.  While it is not my field specifically, which is why I did not speak on it in my lecture, the question of culture is a large one and I would advocate that we need to revise Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. In Spain, we are trying to advance the cultural sector. For instance, the Queen of Spain greatly supported the orchestra composed of musicians from Israel and Palestine, two peoples who are often antagonistic towards one another. Speaking of this, I would like to add that believes that the debate in UN on Palestinian statehood is a difficult one. Today, Hamas will ask for Palestinian membership in the UN and that will potentially produce a bad international result as this will create new antagonism between the US and the rest of the Arab countries.

Europe has different views in some cases [as] Europe is not a single power; on many topics it has a variety of views which can create a mess. I can’t say these things officially as I’m the Director General Honorary of the European Commission, but it is true in some cases.  There was clear division over the intervention in Iraq and there was a clear division over Libya where some countries were totally against the operation, but it was one of those things that Europe, as a whole, must support. Europe has very much advanced in economic coordination, but not very much in political coordination. It may take several generations to see better political integration in Europe. Of course, however, the national governments are working hard towards some version of a united future, although the veto makes that complicated as national governments have an option to not comply with a collective decision.

Q2. Regarding the relationship between the northern and southern Mediterranean countries, do you believe it would be more relevant for the countries to try and integrate? In Europe, there is currently a misunderstanding of the Arab countries because of Sharia. What can we do to better understand each other, and close the gap between the countries, so to speak?                

But the issue is not, in fact, Sharia. The issue more broadly has to do with the dominance of religion over the basic rules of democracy. In Europe, religion is not relevant.  Certainly, at times, the Pope travels around Europe and opens a new church or something like that. On the whole, however, religion is not very relevant in Europe. In the south of the Mediterranean, however, religion is very important and that is creating a gap between the north and the south. In many cases there are people from the south that are emigrating to Europe and they propose new viewpoints to this discussion.

In Spain, a large proportion of immigrants come from Morocco. In general, the Moroccan people are not overly accepting of a woman as the director of an enterprise and men will not accept orders from a woman. This can create some problems in an average European work environment.  Additionally, observing Ramadan can create problems for maintaining normal working hours in a company as well as the fact that various religions having different observation days for the Sabbath. I am not against religious observation, but I recognize that it can produce a number of domestic problems. For example, a religious holiday in the middle of the week can be difficult to accommodate and this is difficult to explain to someone for whom religion is paramount. For historically Catholic Spain, the traditional weekly holiday is Sunday, so this is a newer issue to Spain as well as many European countries.

Another issue is the practice of polygamy in some areas of the Mediterranean. For Europeans, polygamy is quite difficult to accept, even if some of these countries in the south have laws that allow the wife can ask for a divorce. For many Europeans, polygamy is something that completely belongs in the past. I do not see impressing this view on countries in the south as a form of colonialism. I believe this has to do with a positive evolution of the norms. One hundred years ago, Europe certainly did not always have a good situation regarding the rights and position of women and we had to work to seriously change our traditions. The southern countries may still need some years to undergo this process. It is possible that the Arab Spring is a part of this process, although currently, I don’t see that the revolutions are leading towards a modernized society.

Q3. As an economist and also as a Catalonian, you are especially aware of the economic differences within Spain. Do you still think that the implementation of the Euro was wise, taking into account that even at that time there were very different economic realities within states, not to mention within regions? Furthermore, do you still think it wise to continue with the Euro, given that the economic situation has changed more drastically and there is now a bigger gap between the richest EU countries and the poorest EU countries?              

At the very beginning of the euro adventure, even the German Tietmeyer (who was the president of the Deutsche Bundesbank at the time) said that there would be a lot difficulties because without a more formal economic union, a single monetary union will never work.  So, that has been clear from the very beginning.  We were aware that it would be difficult. The main issue today is that some of the European countries have adapted well to the member requirements of the European currency union and some have not. For some in Europe as well as the Mediterranean, there is a gap in circumstances that is not being accounted for in behavior. In the south, there is something called the “duesenberry effect.” Some in the south look at a certain place in Europe and say: “Look! They have hospitals every 100 meters. Ok. We will put hospitals every 100 meters.” The problem is that they won’t necessarily have the money to support this kind of project. So, politicians are promising services they cannot afford in order to win elections. We have plenty of examples in southern Europe with countries trying to fund a lot of social services that are in the northern countries of Europe, but those northern countries have double the personal income compared to the south. You cannot have the same level of public services and social services when you have half of the income of the other country.

This has also been a problem in Europe. As we have seen, many local authorities and central governments have started to spend into deficit. It became much easier to spend on credit because the entry rates were very low. Additionally, there was this illusion that European support would be able to immediately correct all of these imbalances.  Many people are looking at Greece right now, but of course, Greece is a special case.

For Spain, membership in the Union has been very successful. The only problem we have had is in the construction of apartment and the secondary residencies; there has been a tremendous boom and that has created a very difficult synergy.  Spain accepted 4.5 million immigrants specifically to work in the construction of new buildings.  This created a the bubble that became impossible to sustain, but that was not because of the European Union. It was because we made a tremendous mistake in thinking a construction bubble was possible in an effort to advance to the Spanish standard of living to that of France or Germany. Many of the larger issues in the EU or the euro zone come down to the logic used in local decisions within the respective member countries. Unfortunately, the logic is often dictated by what will win elections. So, politicians establish public services or social services that the country cannot financially support realistically, as I stated before.

Q4. You had said that in 1981, there was doubt about Greece; in 1999, there was doubt about Greece; and in 2002, there was doubt about Greece. Now in 2011, we are again taking a chance on them. Is there reason behind all of these decisions? Are Europeans doomed to repeat the same mistakes?       

It seems to me that it is impossible for Greece to pay the debt they have because the only way to pay is to reduce the quality of life for the whole population. Naturally, we do not want Greece to turn into a place where the quality of life resembles Haiti of Burkina Faso. The main issue is not about whether or not Greece will pay.  More broadly, the issue is how to maintain the euro because the euro is one of the most advanced elements of Europe. One country cannot bring down the euro. It is impossible. We must keep the euro because the euro is one of the successful elements of  European integration thanks to such people as Philipp Gonzales, Helmut Kohl, and François Mitterrand decided to advance European cohesion. We cannot accept a setback concerning the euro. Politically, that would be a disaster. We must maintain our current level of integration particularly considering that the rising world powers, China and India, are advancing very fast and if Europe is not strongly together, it will be reduced to nothing.  The euro is one of those key elements that brings us together and makes us strong.

Q5. How can Europe give governance advice to other countries when their own democratic governments are not functioning the way they are meant to?

Today, the main question is not if democracy in Europe, or in other western countries, is a proper democracy because forces like the market, the lobbies, the financial powers, etc. are creating the idea that voting in elections is no longer important. This is a serious concern, but it’s not the primary concern.  The main danger for democracy today is the rapidly rising powers that are non-democratic like China and to some extent, Russia. What is particularly significant about this is that some countries in the south said the best model of advancement is China. Thus, they are aspiring towards a model as the Chinese system is like the Franco regime on the past. Franco’s regime was not a democratic system. During the Franco regime, however, Spain experienced considerable economic growth.  In the 1960s until 1973, Spain had the fastest growth in Europe and today a non-democratic country like China is having the fastest development around the world. That is a very bad example for the southern countries because they say “look, the democratic countries are not growing as fast so we will adapt to the Chinese regime.  Spain can personally speak to the fact that very rapid growth can come at a very high cost if one embraces non-democratic systems.

Regarding universal human rights, the world is in a different place than it was in say, 1948, when the Declaration for Human Rights was signed.  At that time, it was signed there were only approximately 60 countries who were members of the UN. Today, there are 193 member countries (possibly 194 depending on the outcome of the Palestinian case.) Of those countries, how many are really democratic? The initial signatories of the Declaration of Human Rights—mainly Latin American countries and European western countries-- were quite democratic, or, perhaps democratic in the political sense as they were not all so democratic in the economic and social sense. [For me, the crucial issue regards the China, which, in 20 years, will be the largest economy in the world. What will happen in those 20 or 25 years when China continues to be a non-democratic system? The example for the developing countries will be terrible.

Thank you for your time.