SPAIN’S RECOVERY POST COVID-19

Spain 2021 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks Manuel Muñiz, Secretary of State of Global Spain, on the #Spainforsure campaign, how the pandemic has affected the reputation and image of Spain abroad, and his vision of the world post COVID-19.

The Secretary of State of Global Spain, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, works to boost the country's reputation in several areas. What have been the main lines of work since you took office in January?

There have been three main lines of work since I took over in January. The first has been everything regarding the national and foreign strategies in times of COVID-19 as well as post-COVID-19. I was heavily involved in the working group that produced Spain's exit strategy from the lockdown and I was a member of the expert group that advised the Prime Minister, the government, and the cabinet on the steps to take to end the lockdown. The reason I was integral was because we set up the COVID-19 International Observatory, where we obtained information from our embassies regarding what other places around the world were doing to end their COVID-19 lockdowns. We instilled the best practices and ensured they were present in Spain's exit strategy. The second part had to do with the repatriation and return efforts led by the ministry during the pandemic, as Spain underwent the largest repatriation effort in its history. The ministry was directly or indirectly involved in the operation to bring back approximately 40,000 citizens from around the world. More returned through regular commercial operations, but those 40,000 returned via flights that we organized or they used the European Civil Protection Mechanism to bring them back. The third part of my work, which happened much more on the later end of the crisis, is on economic diplomacy and how we crafted a strategy both in Europe together with other colleagues in the ministry and the Prime Minister's Office, how we set up the right reconstruction fund at the European level, and how that connects to our national efforts in terms of fostering internationalization and our economic expansion abroad. This part has been focused on recovery.

How has COVID-19 affected the image and reputation of Spain abroad?

The latest figures that we have are from a survey done by Red Track on country reputation. It was undertaken during the peak of the crisis in Spain between early March and mid-April. The results are striking, as Spain's image didn't take a significant hit. We are still perceived as a reliable country with resilient institutions and a worthy culture that is extremely attractive for tourism. Our lifestyle is highly valued and appreciated throughout the world. A country's reputation is much more resilient long term than what people think and is far less affected by timely issues such as the effects of COVID-19 on a particular country at a particular time. The pandemic is unfortunately a global phenomenon, and we tend to make snapshot evaluations of something that is dynamic, which is a mistake. This has affected other countries greatly, and hence our assessment of where countries are and how their image was impacted must also be dynamic. When you look at this objectively, you realize this is affecting some of the most capable countries around the world with some of the best healthcare systems, which have been more affected than Spain. Overall, the specific impact on our image abroad is much diminished, which is what the quantitative data shows.

Global Spain has been working on several initiatives to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. How have been the results of the Spain For Sure social media campaign?

It was a positive campaign launched at the right time with a message of safety and security in a country that had made an enormous effort to contain one of the worse epidemiological curves in the world. The format is interesting, as it was a partnership with the private sector, with Global Spain on the public side in addition to the tourism and commerce ministries and the Prime Minister's Office. Once the campaign was produced, we distributed it via our ministries, embassies, and ambassadors as well as around 3,000-4,000 businesses and business associations. This had a huge reach and was granular in its impact, reaching specific geographies and collectives that would not otherwise have been touched. That is a product of a PPP and demonstrates how much can be done when businesses are aligned with the government and vice versa. Our common goal was to leave this terrible phase of the pandemic behind, and it is time to show we will do this together.

What is your vision of the post-COVID-19 world?

We conducted a number of foresight studies at the beginning of the crisis to understand the impact on global economics, global governance, and the EU. The conclusion was that the crisis would accelerate prior trends of transformation. It would not slow them down or create major new trends but would serve as an accelerator of prior works. However, if not managed properly, the pandemic will accelerate social fractures, as it will unequally impact certain groups in our societies. It would have a larger impact on particularly fragile portions of our population, such as those who are precariously employed, as about two-thirds of the jobs displaced in Spain because of COVID-19 were short term and unpredictable. It also impacts vulnerable populations, such as the elderly living by themselves or single-parent or low-income households with no access to technology to keep up with online educational programs. We were heavily conscious of this in Spain, and during the entire exit strategy process we had people who looked exclusively at the social dimension of the measures being taken and implemented. Another trend that might accelerate is that of deglobalization, as the crisis poses a challenge to countries that were already suffering supply chain problems before the crisis began. For example, we had challenges importing protective equipment and health equipment like respirators. We have launched an initiative at the European level to have a healthier debate about how we produce autonomy without undoing the global trading regime. The crisis has also exacerbated the US-China conflict and has added a healthcare dimension, with the US leaving WHO as a consequence. We have to prepare how Spain adapts to these issues and address them globally.

What are the main goals and priorities of Global Spain for the coming years?

There are two main goals, with the first having to do with strategy and strategic thinking to address the challenges of a rapidly shifting international landscape and how we reverse the erosion of the multilateral and international order, such as the World Trading Organization (WTO), the UN ecosystem, and many others. The second piece will be economic diplomacy. We will focus heavily on this area to ensure our integrated global economy stands strong and that we continue to foster international trade. For us, the rest of 2020 and 2021 will be focused on getting the EU Mercosur trade agreement agreed and ratified, supporting the internationalization of our businesses, and advancing the agenda of reform and investment through the use of the European fund. At the end of 2020, we have to present to the European Commission an investment plan with all the projects that we seek to put forward with European funding in order to generate employment.