Lucía Abellán – Madrid 11 September 2020
The greatest misgivings towards the Spanish are usually located in Spain. That maxim, a constant lament from the foreign ministers, timidly begins to change. For the first time in more than 10 years, citizens have a slightly higher perception of their country than the one that prevails abroad. This is one of the main conclusions of the latest study on reputation of the Elcano Royal Institute, released this Thursday. This modest rise in self-esteem occurs at a peculiar moment, in the midst of a pandemic that produces more adverse indicators in Spain than in other European territories.
Although the world has changed a lot in recent months due to the coronavirus, internal and external impressions of Spain have hardly altered. This is at least certified by the study by Elcano, one of the main laboratories of ideas in the country, which has interviewed 30,000 people in different states (all of the former G-8 – the countries with the greatest economic power in the world), several European , Latin American and Asian, as well as Morocco and Spain). The field work was carried out between March and April, the first months of the state of alarm, so it does not yet include the medium-term effects of the incidence of the coronavirus.
“For the first time, self-esteem is above the external assessment of Spain. It is little, just a few tenths, but it points to a trend that was already detected in the April barometer ”, Carmen González Enríquez, Elcano’s expert in image of Spain, explained yesterday in a telematic intervention. Spaniards give their country a score of 76.5 points out of 100, compared to the 75.9 registered among the richest countries and 69.2 in Latin America. It is the longest distance since 2009, when the global financial crisis unleashed the previous year had not yet reached Spain.
The improvement in self-esteem has been achieved without a notable drop in foreign reputation, although Spain drops one place (from 12th to 13th) on the list of best-considered countries. The reason is the improvement of Austria, which is now ahead. The countries with the best foreign credentials are Switzerland, Norway and Finland. Behind Spain are, according to this study, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany and France.
The territories that have the best perception of Spain are, in this order, the United Kingdom, Russia, Italy and Germany, a classification in general highly influenced by tourism. Those who perceive the country the worst are Morocco, Colombia, China and Korea.
Despite the loss of foreign reputation keeping the authorities on guard – with episodes such as the economic crisis that began in 2010, the Catalan independence movement and, more recently, the effects of the pandemic – Elcano’s indicator shows a situation of relative stability. “The image of the countries is usually quite armored in the face of the situation. It has more to do with history than with the present. What does change the most is the internal image, ”argued Emilio Lamo de Espinosa, president of the institute. Beyond the feelings of the citizens reflected in this survey, the different governments have detected in recent years a deterioration of the country’s image in institutions and specific sectors of countries in the European environment, mainly as a result of the confrontation with the Catalan independence movement . The attempt to mitigate this erosion of the so-called Spain brand pushed Pedro Sánchez’s first Executive to create Global Spain, a project with the rank of Secretary of State within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reinforce the image that is projected.
Deterioration in tourism
The latest challenge in this outside perception is the management of the pandemic. The high spike in infections during the summer has placed the country among those with the most border restrictions in the European neighborhood. Although the survey only includes the first two months of the pandemic, the reluctance towards trips to Spain, more accentuated than to other countries, is already visible. The country worsens its situation as a tourist destination. Among the visit recommendations it is even behind others also very affected by the coronavirus such as Italy and the United Kingdom.
Despite the fact that the indicators are generally favorable, there is an element that continues to weigh down the internal perception —and to a lesser extent external— of the country. Elcano conceptualizes it as ethics and transparency and alludes largely to the democratic quality of politics and institutions. Faced with the high scores that Spaniards give to aspects such as the country’s natural environment, leisure and lifestyle (all are around 90 points out of 100), the ethics section is at the bottom, with 46 points. “Corruption has played a key role in the self-esteem of Spaniards,” argues González Enríquez. This idea of politics as a problem for society is also increasingly perceived in surveys by the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS).
Asked if the emergence of the King Emeritus from Spain may have also undermined the country’s external image, Elcano’s researcher avoided commenting due to lack of evidence (the work was carried out long before this episode). “We will know later,” predicted González Enríquez.