NATO Summit

Sánchez pledges to double defence budget in 7 years

Spanish President claims victory at "historic" summit, but will need to convince his allies

4 min
Pedro Sánchez to the NATO summit.

Madrid"Perfect, impeccable, excellent". With these three adjectives, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg defined the organization of the summit. He personally thanked Pedro Sánchez for the event's success and spoke of Madrid as "the best possible setting for a historic summit". There is no doubt that of the several winners of the summit, one of them is Pedro Sánchez, who has seen his international profile strengthened by acting as the ideal host. Joe Biden himself acknowledged this before saying the summit was "historic".

Months of work by La Moncloa's international team, led by the Presidency's secretary general Fran Martín have borne fruit over the past three days. It can now be said that the summit has been an organisational and diplomatic success for Spain, which has been the centre of world media attention for three days. And Sánchez has not wasted it, on the contrary.

It should be borne in mind that, despite the fact that he has been Spanish president for four years, until now Sánchez was a perfect stranger to most international journalists, and that it is not even a year since he talked to Joe Biden for under a minute at another NATO summit and ridiculously tried to sell it as a one-to-one meeting. These days, however, his media exposure has multiplied and he has even been interviewed by CNN. He appears in all the photographs of a summit that circumstances have turned into "historic", and on top of that he will have had bilateral meetings with Joe Biden, New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern or with Canada's Justin Trudeau. And he has even added informal meetings at the summit with Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the leaders of Japan and Sweden.

The summit will also be remembered for the images of the participants at the Prado Museum, in an initiative that broke the diplomatic rigidity of the gala dinner at the Royal Palace. It is true that Felipe VI has also been able to forget for a few days the headaches caused by his father and has been able to play the role for which he was trained. Queen Letizia has also had a role as hostess to the leaders' spouses. If we are to believe what the organisation claims, the country-branding operation has gone well. So much so that even the head of the opposition, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, has felt obliged to congratulate Sánchez. Unheard of.

That is why it was no surprise that Sánchez appeared this afternoon in the NATO press room with a huge grin. "The summit has increased Spain's prestige and strengthened its international position. All the objectives we had have been fulfilled," he said. "It has been a great opportunity to project an image of a modern, solvent country committed to peace," he added.

Towards 2% of GDP in defence

As part of this operation to put Spain on the map, Sánchez has made a commitment to NATO to allocate 2% of GDP to defence by 2029, i.e. double the current percentage. "This has to be a country agreement that transcends ideological issues. I understand that before the invasion [of Ukraine] some might have had a different opinion, but the world changed in February," he insisted. But "ideological issues" exist, especially within his own government. For this reason, he has insisted to Unidas Podemos on the need for them to rethink their position. "Sweden and Finland's change in position should make us all reflect. Because now we see that security is not guaranteed," he reiterated.

We did not have to wait long to see these discrepancies: this afternoon a PP motion was voted in Congress that sought to accept the results of the NATO summit and also to increase the defence budget to 2% of GDP. PSOE and Unidas Podemos have voted differently and Podemos have also rejected sending arms to Ukraine, Mireia Esteve reports.

Unidas Podemos's misgivings in relation to the military escalation are well known. For a smooth running of the NATO summit, however, the minority partner in the coalition government accepted not to make noise or display criticisms in public. However, Podemos ministers have shown their own profile in an indirect way: while Sánchez was hosting Joe Biden's in Madrid, the Minister of Equality, Irene Montero, visited the White House to discuss policies in her field with Jennifer Klein, the head of the council that advises the American president. On the other hand, the Minister of Social Rights, Ione Belarra, furthered this parallel diplomacy by receiving Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonia Urrejola.

Parliamentary (lack of) support

This international prominence of Sánchez, which is reminiscent in some ways of that of Felipe González at the end of his mandate, clashes with crude parliamentary reality. It is similar to what happens to Emmanuel Macron, who is a superstar when he travels to Brussels, but then suffered a setback in the French legislative elections.

Sánchez wants an agreement on the progressive increase of the defence budget and the expansion of the US navy base in Rota and he will have no problems counting on the support of the PP. Of course, this will cause friction with his coalition partners and parliamentary allies, who after the setback in Andalucía already warned the Socialist leader that he would be making a mistake if he veered to the right. And Sánchez did not, quite the contrary. He brought back a progressive agenda, including the Historical Memory law, and reactivated talks with the Generalitat to win back ERC. In addition, he has innovated with a discourse that charges against a "powerful minority, with political and media terminals," which acts against the Spanish government when it wants to raise the minimum wage or create a new tax for large energy companies, as he told SER in an interview on Wednesday.

This is how Sánchez seeks to demonstrate that the Socialists represent the professional and working class and recover their central role after their defeat in Andalucía. Yet this militaristic turn and the tragedy in Melilla may distance Sánchez from the left, which has given him stability in the Spanish parliament. And that is what he will need if he wants to pass a new budget.