Through perhaps little of its own wrongdoing, Spain has seen its ranking slip four places from last year’s index. Despite retaining impressive cultural soft power through its unrivalled cuisine and climate, the country has been leapfrogged in the digital sphere by a wave of savvy young digital diplomats. Nonetheless, the last 12 months saw the country make important steps towards stability, with the beginning of Mariano Rajoy’s second term in office finally signalling an end to a 10-month spell without a government. When Rajoy unexpectedly threw a Gibraltar-sized spanner into the Brexit process and hosted world leaders in Madrid in April 2017, it was suddenly clear that Spain sees an opportunity to regain influence at a time when other European countries are absorbed in their own problems. With the economy returning to pre-crisis levels and its current account in the surplus, Spain could well enjoy a strong end to 2017 and further repair the damage to its reputation caused by the 2008 meltdown.
Food? Wine? Uninterrupted sunshine? How about all three? It is no surprise that the Iberian nation continues to enjoy a sparkling reputation for culture and creativity – assets which helped attract a record 75 million international visitors in 2016 and kept Spain the third most visited country in the world. Its resurgent approach to diplomatic relations has helped Spain maintain a solid ranking in the Engagement sub-index.
Memories of the global financial crisis linger for many Spanish citizens, particularly the 41 percent of under 25-year-olds who are unemployed. Spain’s economic reputation has suffered, and the country has struggled to improve on its relatively low ranking in Enterprise. Politically, although Rajoy survived a vote of confidence to return to power, he faces an uphill battle in governing a deeply divided congress amid a raft of corruption scandals and dealing with the looming Catalan independence referendum.
If soft power was purely based on cultural assets, Spain could continue without deviation or hesitation. What’s clear though is that its digital capabilities and business reputation are lagging too far behind for it to return to the international fold as a major player, as Rajoy would like. Spain naturally engages with people across the world, but the question remains as to how this translates into economic benefits for its people.