But for the young generations, they don’t understand this because they have always lived in peace, and they have always lived more or less as well in prosperity. For them, it’s more complicated to understand the historical sense of the European Union. We must explain this to the young generation, not only the original objectives of the European Union, but that it is indispensable to guarantee there is not a new explosion of disintegration in Europe. If not, we'll have a lot of very serious problems.
Working with twenty-eight countries sitting around a table and managing decision-making is complicated. But imagine a hundred regions. It is totally impossible. It’s only a chance for conflict. I have a very serious concern about this. We must reestablish coexistence of the national states and our commitment to the European Union.
OR: Do you see any risk in the near term of a sudden political change in Europe?
Aznar: I hope not. The most important question at this moment is the decision of the UK [whether or not to stay in the European Union]. I personally believe that for Europe, it’s better to have England inside the European Union and for the UK as well.
I always consider that all the economic crises are political crises and finally, we must resolve the political questions. We need attention because in one part, there is nationalism and in another part, there’s radicalism. The strength of the idea of Europe is, in my view, too weak politically.
The Atlantic Basin
OR: You’ve also been a big advocate of closer integration with the United States and with the Atlantic Basin in general.
Aznar: I am a total supporter of this idea because I cannot explain my country without the Atlantic. I cannot explain Europe without the Atlantic. I cannot explain the existence of the European Union without the Atlantic. There is an essential relationship between Europe and the US, North America, even Canada, not only in political terms but in security and economically. If you look at the level of investments and trade between Europe and the US, it’s very impressive. Together we sum up to fifty percent of the GDP in the world.
Well, now we have ahead of us a very serious decision, the TTIP [the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] between Europe and the US. It is strategically totally indispensable. The current situation where you are looking at energy, at the situation of Russia, at the volatility in the Middle East or at the ambition of China and other emerging powers, is bringing this idea to the forefront in my view.
We must also try to expand the Atlantic policy. We should ask, is it enough to base our policy on the relations in the North Atlantic? We must look as well to the South Atlantic, to some countries in Latin America and in Africa, to look at the Atlantic as a basin and try to enlarge this combination of values and political, economic, and cultural interests that we share.
OR: So, do you think the United States should be focusing more on the Atlantic than on the Pacific?
Aznar: No. But I consider that the future of the United States will continue to be decided in the Atlantic. Obviously, if you look in the Pacific in economic terms and political terms, the presence of China and India, of three billion people, it changes the situation. But some people think that the future exists only in the Pacific. This is not true because the Atlantic Basin is the area with more reserves of oil, of gas, raw materials, food and natural water and investments and trade of goods and services and cultural values, and this is the force of this area. For our way of life, for our system of values, this idea of around the Atlantic, continues to be vital in my view.
OR: What do you think the chances are the free trade agreement actually passes?
Aznar: Well, it depends on politics as always. The November elections in the US present some difficulties. But strategically it so important, this idea, that this is a time for the statesmen or stateswomen to take the situation very seriously, to look to the future.
Ukraine and European Security
OR: What is the future of the European role in NATO?
Aznar: In terms of security, we must transform the idea of NATO to be more flexible. I think it’s indispensable that Europeans make more of a contribution to defense because the situation is really very sad.
OR: Do you think it’s a financial issue or is it more that the United States has retreated so Europe is following?
Aznar: Both. It’s easier to spend money on social questions than on defense, but people must remember as well that defense is vital to keeping social welfare. And after the Second World War, it’s a traditional position in Europe to be a complement of the US.
The problem is one day, you open the door and there is no US. In this moment, what happened? How did it happen? This exists as a threat to security for Europe. When I look at the situation in Ukraine and Crimea, I personally share the idea that it is necessary to reinforce – not to escalate a crisis but to reinforce – the defensive capacities in some countries that are in the center of Eastern Europe.
OR: Do you think the Ukraine crisis will be prolonged and do you see it expanding further?
Aznar: The crisis will continue because the position of Ukraine, I believe, is untenable in the future, and the pressure of Russia will continue. Russian policies said, “I cannot accept that you put your hands in an area that I consider an area under my influence.” Okay. But if everyone defends this same policy, we have a problem. It is fundamental to respect the rules.
José María Aznar was the Prime Minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004.