The United Kingdom is Spain’s major global partner

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The United Kingdom is Spain's major global partner. Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office (CC BY 2.0). Elcano Blog

Spanish state visit (July 2017). Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office (CC BY 2.0).

With an index value of 204.1 points, Spain ranks 12th (out of 100 countries) in the latest edition of Elcano Global Presence Index –that assesses countries according to their external projection in the economic, strategic and cultural and social spheres–. Spain has considerably increased its global presence between 1990 and 2016, due to its fast insertion in the global economic, social and political arena at the beginning of this period (through, for instance, its adherence to the EU or NATO). Spain’s external action has turned more economic throughout these years. Starting with a strong soft profile of projection, the country ranks now 12th in the economic dimension, 11th in the soft domain but falls to the 17th position in the military realm.

Spain is also, mainly, a European international player. As shown in a previous report, it is the sixth contributor to EU’s global presence –that is, the external projection of the Union as if it behaved like a single political actor–. This European ‘bias’ also appears in the international allocation of Spanish global presence. Over 61% of such presence is projected in European countries. Latin America comes second (less than 14%), followed by North America (8%), Maghreb and the Middle East and Asia and the Pacific (7% each) and, lastly, Sub-Saharan Africa (slightly less than 3%). More specifically, the share of global presence projected in the United Kingdom equals that of the whole Latin American region (Graph 1).


Graph 1. International allocation of Spanish global presence (2016; as a % of total global presence). Source: Elcano Global Presence Index.

The United Kingdom is a relevant partner for Spain in almost all fields of international relations. Moreover, this partnership has slightly strengthened over the last decade as the share of global presence to the United Kingdom has increased from 12.7% in 2005 to 13.5% in 2016.

As shown in Table 1, this country is the first destination of Spanish economic and soft dimensions, and has recently fell to the second position in the military dimension. The United Kingdom hosts the largest stock of Spanish foreign direct investment and buys the largest amount of Spanish tradable services. It is also the first country of origin of tourists to Spain. It is the second international destination of Spanish troops (and consequently of military capacities); the country of origin of the second largest community of immigrants in Spain; the second destination of exports of cultural services; and the second partner in scientific global activity. The fact that it is also the third market of exports for Spanish manufactures indicates that both countries belong to a same regional production chain (something that is also shown by the strong similarities between the exports and imports baskets in bilateral trade). When it comes to primary goods (one important feature of Spain’s external projection), United Kingdom is this country’s fifth partner.

Table 1. Spanish global presence in the United Kingdom by dimensions and variables (2005-2016; ranking position out of 24 countries)
2016 2010 2005
Global presence 1 1 1
Economic dimension 1 1 1
Energy 7 8 11
Primary goods 5 5 5
Manufactures 3 5 4
Services 1 1 1
Investments 1 1 1
Military dimension 2 1 1
Troops 2 1 1
Military Equipment 2 1 1
Soft dimension 1 2 1
Migrations 2 2 2
Tourism 1 1 1
Sports 10 10 9
Culture 2 3 2
Information 3 4 3
Technology 8 9 5
Science 2 2 2
Education 13 15 15
Development Cooperation

Source: Elcano Global Presence Index.

The current methodology of the Elcano Global Presence Index does not allow for the calculation of the British presence in Spain (United Kingdom’s global presence cannot be broken down by destination). However, there are two features of British global presence that may indicate that Spain is not such an important host of United Kingdom’s external projection as it happens the opposite way.

Firstly, it is well known that the United Kingdom is a major global player. The country has the fifth largest world economy (according to World Bank figures) and ranks fourth, with an index value of 565.6 points, in the Elcano Global Presence Index. Such external projection is relevant in almost all fields. The country is fourth in the economic dimension (third world investor abroad), fifth in the military domain and jumps to the second position in the soft dimension (mainly due to its performance in sports, culture, science, education and development cooperation). Therefore, it is very likely that such global presence is diversified in a number of countries.

Secondly, Elcano Global Presence Index results for the United Kingdom show what we have previously defined as the ‘British paradox’. This country is the first contributor the European Union’s external projection; a fact that may seem counter-intuitive given the relatively lower profile of the United Kingdom (when compared with Germany or France) in the construction of the European project. However, this is precisely the reason why the British society is the greatest contributor to the projection of the EU outside its borders: its global presence is probably not as intra-European as that of Spain, and as that of big European players like Germany or France.

In short, United Kingdom and Spain hold a thick bilateral link in all domains, that has strengthened during the last decade. Although the share of British presence in Spain is unknown (for now), and is presumably not as high as that of the Spanish presence in the United Kingdom, the Elcano Global Presence Index results show the co-dependence of these two countries particularly in the economic and soft dimensions.

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