Home inFocus Spain’s Former Prime Minister on the Future of Europe

Spain’s Former Prime Minister on the Future of Europe

An interview with Jose Maria Aznar

Jose Maria Aznar Winter 2007

On October 11, inFocus editor Jonathan Schanzer interviewed former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Mr. Aznar served two four-year terms as prime minister, from 1996 to 2004. Under Aznar's leadership, Spain joined U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the 2003 allied invasion of Iraq. Mr. Aznar was also in office during the March 11, 2004, al-Qaeda attack on the Madrid train system that killed 191 people. Mr. Aznar now presides over the FAES think tank, which is associated with the Partido Popular (Popular Party), and was appointed distinguished scholar at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

iF: Please describe your view of the demographic and cultural challenges surrounding Muslims in Europe today.16

JMA: One of the most important characteristics of Europe at this moment is European demography and its impact on the population of Europe. The major part of this issue is Muslim immigration. The Muslim immigrant population increases every year. In addition, in some countries of Europe, the rate of birth is higher among immigrants. The consequence is that the Muslim population increases and grows in Europe, while the indigenous European population declines. This is one of the most important circumstances in the European landscape.

Second is that the attitude and the will of different European countries to maintain the basic principles, the values and the ideas that are the basis of the Western world—our freedoms, our democracies, equality between women and men, human dignity and others—are very weak. And the determination of the radical Muslims to establish their roots in Western societies is stronger every day.

The third circumstance, or idea, is that the multicultural experiment is a failure in Europe. The real issue for European societies, in my view, should be that everybody is equal under the law. No exceptions for reasons of faith, of ethnic origin, of sex, and so on. There have been efforts to establish laws based on ethnic or religious origin. This cannot be. The law is the same for everybody.

Fourth, and this is impossible to avoid, is the terrorist threat that comes with the explosion of immigration. It is necessary to connect the illegal component of immigration with the terrorist threat, and to act on it.

iF: What about the threat of radical Islam in Spain?

JMA: It’s easy to speak about dialogue. But I think that dialogue is only possible when everybody respects the same rules. Tolerance is possible when I respect your ideas, and you respect my ideas. Not you accept your ideas and you reject my ideas.

In general there is a misconception of the idea of tolerance in my country. Spain is considered for the Islamic terrorists a part of the former Caliphate and the new Caliphate. To recover Spain and to recreate a Caliphate spanning from Spain to the Philippines is the idea of this radical Islamist ideology. It is extremely important to recognize this.

There is, in my country, not a strong consciousness about this. It’s easier to try to talk about resolving our problems. But, there are very dangerous threats. And it’s not possible to establish dialogue with terrorists who want to eliminate our way of life, to supplant our way of life, or to destroy our society. It’s not possible to negotiate. It’s not possible to tolerate them if they do not tolerate us.

iF: When you were prime minister of Spain, there was a change in the thinking among Spaniards after the 3/11 bombings in Madrid. Many analysts believe the attack evoked a policy of appeasement, which influenced the elections a few days later. Is Spain afraid of engaging in a war with radical Islam?

JMA: This is an issue of how to govern. You are talking about a decision to establish a different policy—the current policy of appeasement. This is the reality. It is more difficult to fight than to engage in appeasement. But I believe it was better to fight for our society, and for our country. This change is, unfortunately, the policy in my country. I consider this to be a serious mistake. They transmit the idea to the people that there is no threat, that there is no problem for Spaniards, and that this threat is an exaggeration by some academics or political leaders. This is the wrong way. This is the difference between my government and the new one. This is the difference between having the will to fight terror, or to do nothing, and to support appeasement. This is the current policy in Spain.

iF: I know you are a supporter of President Bush’s Iraq policy, and that the President’s policies were essentially your policies. Although Spain is no longer deployed in Iraq, how should the West handle some of the challenges there?

JMA: Three points on that. First of all, I believe in a strong transatlantic relationship. I believe in the Western world, and I believe in Western values. I believe in a close link between Europe and America. The Western world is not just a geographical concept. It is a system of values. I believe it is necessary for the transatlantic ties and the Western institutions to remain strong. And when I experience a threat, I should have the solidarity of my friends. After 9/11 the United States absolutely felt that Iraq posed a threat to the United States and the world in general. I expressed my solidarity with the United States. And I would not break with this solidarity. This was my policy.

Second, I think that the invasion of Iraq was the right decision. Now the world is better without Saddam, who was just as dangerous as Milosevic and the Taliban. It’s no question. The world is better without them.

Finally, international security and international responsibility is not only the task and responsibility of the United States. The United States has a major part in this responsibility. But it’s very important for the United States to have a lot of allies and for those allies to work alongside the United States.

I think the conditions in Iraq will improve. There is a reason to have some hope in the future. This policy to try and extend freedom and democracy in the Middle East is a very good policy. The lack of democracies in the Middle East and in Muslim countries is a major problem for modern societies and for the world. It has become our problem because of radical Islam.

iF: Do you agree with those who say that the United States should leave Iraq by next year?

JMA: I disagree. The United States should not leave Iraq in another year. This would be a catastrophe. Withdrawal would be very irresponsible in my view. It will not only be a serious victory for the terrorists and radical Islamists, it will be a very serious folly for the United States and Western world. It sends the wrong message to maintain a position and—snap—then you say you are going to leave. It is not responsible. I know personally that it is very hard when you lose lives at war. But it is necessary to maintain a strategy that drives us to victory. Victory in Iraq is extremely important for the future of the Muslim world, and for the Western societies.

Second, if the United States is to leave Iraq, the consequences in Afghanistan will be disastrous. In Afghanistan, it will be almost impossible to organize any system of stability there if the United States shows it will not stay and stabilize Iraq.

Third, for another part of the Western world, for Israel, this will be the most catastrophic. The isolation of Israel would be very dangerous. In my view, Israel is an essential part of the Western world. Some people say that Iraq is an isolated problem. This is simply untrue. If the United States is to leave Iraq, the consequences will be extremely dangerous for the United States, for Afghanistan, for Iran, for Israel, and for the entire Western world.

iF: You just mentioned Iran. Clearly, the U.S. has been working very hard to isolate Iran, because the U.S. is reluctant to get involved in another war in the Middle East. Do you think that war is inevitable, or can Iran be contained with the help of our European allies?

JMA: I believe that if Iran becomes a nuclear power, then war is inevitable. The question now is: How it is possible to avoid this? It’s not easy, because all diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, and the support of elements against the regime need a lot of time. These are things we will need to prevent a military conflict before Iran becomes a nuclear power. I think there exist possibilities for stronger economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure against Iran. But, we should pursue this without taking any options off the table. If the Ayatollahs believe that the Western world will do nothing, that will open the door for the most dangerous proliferators in the world.

iF: Given the Muslim demographic issues that you mentioned earlier, do you believe that Turkey should join the European Union?

JMA: Spain is friends with Turkey. During my time in government, I established very strong relations with Turkey. In the short term, it’s hard for the European Union to accept Turkey. This does not mean that it will never happen. Perhaps Turkey can be considered 15 years later.

For this decision, it is necessary to look at all the strategic problems. The history of Turkey is, of course, a strong alliance with the Western world. But, analyzing the demographics, it is not possible to have a European future with a majority of Muslims. The only way it is possible for Europe to accept this is if Turkey is converted from a Muslim country.

The leaders of Europe realize that it’s not possible to avoid this discussion. A dialogue among European leaders is necessary about this question. There are political problems, because the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is an Islamist party. There are religious problems. There is the demographic question. There is the question of whether Europe can integrate with Turkey economically.

In the end, this is a demographic issue. I should make it clear: Europe is not a Christian club. But it must be possible to maintain its Christian character.

iF: The new French leadership, under Nicolas Sarkozy, appears to balance the weak leadership in Spain. The new government in the U.K., under Gordon Brown, appears to be somewhere in the middle. Some argue that there is no clear vision of the future of the transatlantic relationship. What will the future hold, in your view?

JMA: At this moment, the transatlantic relationship is better than it was three or four years ago. It has always suffered different crises, but the biggest was at the time of the Iraqi crisis. Now, I do think it is better with the new leadership of Sarkozy in France, and with the leadership of Angela Merkel in Germany. I don’t know about Gordon Brown, but the policy in Great Britain is the same, more or less. So I see a situation that favors strong transatlantic relations and I am very happy about this.

I wish for a change in the policy of the government of Spain. It is necessary for strong relations between Europe and the United States and strong relations between Spain and the United States. To be a strong supporter of this transatlantic relationship is, for me, extremely important. This is one of my policies and is a strong passion for me. It’s decisive for the future of Europe and for the interests of the Western world, in general. I promoted the idea of a strong NATO. It was my idea to create an economic area to promote transatlantic ties between Europe and the United States. I promoted the idea of engaging with the countries of Latin America, and to maintain strong ties between Latin America and the Western world. Support from Europe is more necessary than support from the United States.

Good transatlantic ties are good for America. But it’s not necessary for the U.S. to have this relationship. However, it is necessary for Europe. If Europe were capable of maintaining our security, it would be less important. But we share our security with the United States. Democracy, freedom and our shared interests are the most important part of the transatlantic relationship.

iF: Thank you very much.