He was the shadow of the president when he left Spain since Pedro Sánchez arrived in La Moncloa after the motion of censure against Mariano Rajoy, in May 2018. José Manuel Albares (Madrid, 1972), a career diplomat, was the sherpa of the President of the Government, his main adviser for international affairs, until January 16, 2020. On that day, Arancha González Laya was sworn in as Foreign Minister, a position for which Albares himself had sounded strongly.
But his day had not yet come, and he was appointed ambassador to France by González Laya. Albares has had to wait a year and a half to crown the top of Foreign Affairs, when that photo in the Falcon has just turned three years old with a Pedro Sánchez recently appointed president and on the way to his first European Council in Brussels.
“I will spare no effort in representing Spain abroad,” Albares said this Saturday in a tweet thanking Sánchez. Unlike González Laya, who was not a member of the PSOE, the new Foreign Minister has been part of the PSOE since 1999 and is responsible for the presentation “Spain in Europe and the world” at the next PSOE Congress. In the 2015 general elections, he temporarily left the diplomatic career and joined Pedro Sánchez’s campaign team, being the coordinator of the electoral program in European policy and foreign policy of the PSOE. In 2012 he founded the International Circle of Reflection, according to the curriculum released by the Secretary of State for Communication.
The void that Albares left in January with his march to Paris was not covered by Moncloa. The all-powerful and loyal adviser, that “young but experienced diplomat,” as Sánchez described this Saturday, with whom he worked “closely” and “demonstrated great knowledge of international affairs,” did not have a literal replacement.
Thus, his custom-designed functions as Secretary General for International Affairs, European Union, G20 and Global Security, came to be divided between three people. On the one hand, the reinforced economic profile fell on Manuel De la Rocha, while Aurora Mejía became the person in charge of European affairs and Emma Aparici of the rest of international affairs.
The outgoing minister, González Laya, also thanked Sánchez for the “trust” for having been able to “serve” his “country.”
Of those moments when Albares was the sherpa of the president is a photo remembered in Brussels. The senior advisers to the EU heads of government are seen, in March 2019, while they were shaping a document that ended up being the conclusions of the European summit that contained the long-awaited response of the EU to the then British Prime Minister, Theresa May, on the disputed extension of Brexit. Ambassadors, advisers and diplomats from the EU and the 27 were milling around the Belgian representative’s computer to draft the text. The image was taken by the Bulgarian ambassador to the European Union, Dimiter Tzantchev, and Albares appears in the center of the image behind Sabine Weyand, right-hand man of the former EU chief negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier.
“It is an adjoining room where the leaders of the countries are gathered,” Albares explained that day: “We don’t usually carry computers there, we have them on the ground floor, and it’s the room where we meet the leaders when they go out. to ask or consult something personally. We usually go there with our phone and our notebook, and little else “.
“There is a moment in which the leaders tell us that there is an agreement, and we all start to work together to translate it into a text”, the now new Foreign Minister recounted: “At the time of the photo, is when the The Belgian man takes out his computer and begins to write. That is why we all appear next to him, pressed behind the screen … and silent, waiting to see what he wrote after having listened to all of us. That is why it is the moment in which the Bulgarian put aside, take out the phone and take the picture. ”
Brussels will be one of the main items on the agenda of the new Foreign Minister. On the horizon is the culmination of the legislature of Sánchez, the rotating presidency of the EU, which falls in Spain in the second half of 2023 and is a milestone that the President of the Government does not want to miss. Along the way, the arrival of European funds, which can receive the last go-ahead from European partners this week in Brussels, in which there are precisely meetings of finance ministers and also foreign ministers.
Apart from the European agenda, a priority for Foreign Affairs, Albares will also have on the table the so-called South Neighborhood, in particular Morocco. Country with which Spain has an open crisis after pressure from Rabat that created a border crisis after Spain welcomed the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Gali, for humanitarian reasons. A crisis that is expected to be overcome with a change of interlocutor in the Government of Spain that allows the dialogue to be restored.
In the south, linked to the challenge of rebuilding relations with Morocco, are people fleeing wars, hunger and climate change, at a time when a new Migration Pact is being discussed in the EU. And, also, the management of Brexit and Latin America and the new approaches to Venezuela after the change of presidency in the White House, as well as the two countries that both NATO and the EU are targeting: Russia and China, with which there are quite a number of open conflicts.
Four secretariats of State will also depend on Albares, which can be played upon arrival. One is the Secretary of State for the EU, in the hands of Juan González-Barba, appointed by González Laya. González-Barba entered the Diplomatic Career in 1991 and before his appointment he was the Spanish ambassador to the Republic of Turkey and a non-resident ambassador to Georgia and Azerbaijan.
In addition, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and for Latin America and the Caribbean will hang from Albares, in the hands of Cristina Gallach since the arrival of González Laya, journalist, former senior EU official and former spokesperson for Ban Ki Moon at the UN and Javier Solana in the EU and NATO. Gallach has also been a regular in the pools to be the head of Spanish diplomacy.
In addition, there is the secretariat of Global Spain, headed by Manuel Muñiz since January 2020, who was dean of the School of Global and Public Affairs of the Instituto de Empresa from January 2017 to January 2020. During that period, Muñiz, Graduated in Law, he was also director of the Center for the Governance of Change at IE.
Finally, Foreign Affairs has the Secretary of State for International Cooperation. Ángeles Moreno Bau, also named by González Laya, has a degree in Law and has been a member of the Diplomatic Career since 1994. Since July 2018 she held the position of Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.
All this, at a time when vaccination is advancing at high speed throughout Europe – this Saturday the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced that this week’s vaccine deliveries will reach 70% of the population EU adult with the full pattern – and in which European funds are about to flow.
At this juncture that is expected to be favorable for the continent, in Brussels there is speculation about the possibility that the new Foreign Minister may take over from the Permanent Representative Ambassador to the EU, Pablo García Berdoy, who was appointed in December 2016 by the Government of Mariano Rajoy after passing through the embassy in Germany and whom the Government of Sánchez has kept in office all this time. A position that requires knowing the internal functioning of the EU, its institutions –Council, Commission and Parliament–, and that represents a bridge between Madrid and Brussels, both on the way out and back, both to defend the position of the Spanish Government and to alert it of the possible traps in negotiations with European partners, as well as to accompany the president and his various ministers in meetings.