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‘Politically close’ Macron and Sánchez hope for diplomatic reset at Barcelona summit

Franco-Spanish diplomatic summits were once dominated by discussions on how to defeat terrorism but talk of bullets and bombs will be substituted by more peaceful dialogue over energy and border connections when both sides meet on Thursday.

Supplies of renewable energy from Spain to the rest of Europe via France will be discussed when Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron to Barcelona.

More than ten years ago, both countries worked together to defeat the Basque separatist organisation ETA, but now improving the border cooperation between Spain and France will be the key preoccupation.

In a diplomatic love-in, both countries will use the summit to demonstrate their close relationship with the signing of a Treaty of Friendship. France only has two other such friendship treaties, with Germany and Italy.

“We will want to show neighbourliness between Spain and France, two big European countries of great significance,” said a Spanish government source.

Macron and Sánchez ‘politically close’

Ignacio Molina, an investigator in Spanish foreign policy at the Real Elcano Institute, a Madrid think-tank, said both France and Spain are enjoying a warm relationship, on a political and personal level. 

“Macron and Sánchez are not friends, but they have a good relationship and though Macron is more centrist than Sánchez, they are politically close,” 

“Relations have improved. Both countries have interests in common in terms of energy, migration, trade and how to deal with Africa. Both countries are also interested in a reform of the European Union,” he told Euronews.

“After Italy and Germany, Spain is the most important ally for France in the European Union.”

Politically, Spain is closer to France than Italy, which voted for a centre-right coalition government last September, Molina said, who added that Britain had left the EU after voting for Brexit.

Last year, the row over the proposed MidCat gas pipeline through the Pyrenees which France opposed for environmental reasons was an obstruction to Spanish efforts to sell more energy to Europe.

The compromise solution was the BarMar underwater pipeline, now renamed H2MED, to carry green hydrogen and other renewable gases from Barcelona to Marseille, which could be finished by 2030.

Strong commercial links underscore the importance of the alliance between both countries.

French exports to Spain are greater than those to China, while Spanish exports to France are greater than the sum of all its exports to North and South America.

For Spain, sealing closer ties with France will be important as Madrid prepares to take over the presidency of the European Union from July, said Hector Sánchez Margalef, an investigator from the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs.

Spain prepares for EU presidency

Madrid will push ahead with two priorities for its foreign policy: reducing European dependency on Russian energy and cutting inflationary pressure on food and energy. Spain, like Portugal, wants to sell more electricity to the rest of Europe.

A closer relationship with France, will help Spain push through these goals.

“For Spain it is about to start its presidency of the European Union. To ensure that this is successful, closer ties with France will help,” Sánchez Margalef told Euronews.

“Obviously, the reason that this summit is happening in Barcelona has to do with energy and the recent deal to build a pipeline between Barcelona and Marseille.”

Since coming to power in 2019, Sánchez has tried to have a more ambitious international policy than previous Spanish leaders. A closer relationship with France will help Madrid to establish Spain as among the club of Europe’s most important states, said Sánchez Margalef.

Foreign policy success for Spain’s minority left-wing coalition government could bring benefits on the domestic front as voters gear up for local and regional elections in May and general elections later this year.

The choice of Barcelona for the summit was no accident.

“Barcelona is close to France and it is where the gas pipeline to France will begin so it was chosen on purpose,” said a Spanish government source.

The province of Barcelone also has the largest number of French expats in Spain.

Sanchez, who has adopted a moderate attitude towards Catalonia to try to cool separatist ambitions to split from Spain, has invited the Catalan regional president Pere Aragonès to the summit.

The Spanish prime minister insists warmer relations between Madrid and Barcelona have meant that, according to Sánchez, the ‘procès’ – the Catalan independence drive – is finally over ten years after it started in 2012.

A survey earlier this month from the Autonomous University of Barcelona found only 4.2% of those questioned believed Catalonia would achieve independence from Spain, the lowest figure since surveys were carried out.

Sánchez has taken political risks by pardoning nine Catalan separatist leaders who were jailed over a failed independence referendum in 2017.

But some supporters of independence disagree and have planned demonstrations to show the flame of rebellion is still alive.

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