It is not just the Greeks who are lamenting a humiliating defeat in Brussels.
The Spanish government, too, has suffered a stinging setback. The headlines on Tuesday morning told the story: “Spain left without influence in the EU,” declared El Mundo. The El País daily, meanwhile, bemoaned the “diplomatic incompetence” that produced this latest Spanish “failure”.
Despite furious lobbying from Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, and despite the support of Germany, Madrid failed to get what it so badly wanted: the appointment of Luis de Guindos as the next president of the eurogroup. “De Guindos loses and plunges Spain into political irrelevance,” remarked el diario, the Spanish news website.
Over much of the past 12 months, Mr de Guindos was regarded as a shoo-in. Spain has long been under-represented in top EU positions, so it was due a big post. Last year, when EU heads of government haggled over the senior positions in the European Commission and European Council, Mr Rajoy deliberately stood back, believing that he had secured an implicit promise that Mr de Guindos would be handed the eurogroup post. The appointment of a Spaniard, moreover, would be seen as a well-deserved reward for a government that had “done its homework” during the eurozone crisis, and whose economy is now on course to grow by more than 3 per cent this year.
Mr de Guindos himself took the defeat on the chin. “Some you win, some you lose,” he declared after the eurogroup vote. Though he apparently lost to Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the incumbent, by a narrow margin (nine to ten votes, according to some; seven to 12, according to others) he agreed to back the Dutchman in a second round of voting, to ensure unanimous support. Without the prospect of a high-profile European job, Mr de Guindos is likely to leave politics at the end of this year, after Spain’s general election.
There were, obviously, good reasons to stick with Mr Dijsselbloem. Changing the leader of the eurogroup at this crucial moment in the negotiations with Greece would have injected needless friction. What is more, Mr Dijsselbloem comes from the centre-left – making him a rare beast at a time when most top EU positions are occupied by conservative politicians. Mr de Guindos, despite not being a member of any party, is identified with the centre-right.
For Mr Rajoy, the failure to get his man elected is painful all the same. He was keen to trumpet Mr de Guindos’ appointment as a symbol of Spain’s new-found status as the fastest-growing economy in the eurozone, and all-round star pupil. It would have been a useful tool to yield in the forthcoming campaign. Instead, he has been made to look isolated and impotent.
Over the past couple of years, Spain has made few demands on its eurozone partners. To be turned down even on the relatively simple matter of the eurogroup presidency will give cause for thought in Madrid, but possible also in Brussels. One way or the other, Spain will demand compensation.
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