Traditionally, neighbors don´t get along. Spain and France are no different case, although in the last three decades things have changed for good
There are so many examples of early misunderstandings (or really severe problems) between the two countries. Two countries that have fight against each other for a long time in Modern History (notably, when Carlos I of Spain and V of Germany and François I of France held their respectives thrones). That was on the XVI century.
Later, on the XIX century, things got worse: Napoleon decided to invade his ally from the South, Spain. With the invasion, he got the throne of Spain and gave it to his brother, José Bonaparte, apart from achieving the mistrust of the Spanish people, and finally an insurrection that was his first step to a final general defeat. That was called the Spanish War on Independence.
Last, but not least, we have to talk about Franco´s military coup in the 30s. France, governed by Leon Blum at that time, wanted to help the Spanish Republic (the legitimate regime, democratically elected), but instead, it stayed neutral as was accorded in the Non-Intervention Committee (which by the way wasn´t respected first by Germany and Italy and afterwards by the Soviet Union). After the World War II, again, France didn´t do anything (apart from promoting some resolutions on the UN) against the Spanish dictator.
Spain suffered then 40 years of a hardline dictatorship. When Franco died, in 1975, it was clear that the democracy had to finally arrive and stay in Spain. It was a time of so many illusions, a time that was felt as unique; and in that magical and tremendous atmosphere, Spain and all the Spaniards had one common objective: be part of Europe, return to Europe.
Europe was the goal, because we had been isolated for too many years. Spain actually signed a Treaty with the European Community in 1970, which was very useful to multiply exponentially the transactions between Spain and the European bloc. But it wasn´t enough. Enough would only be everything, and to get everything, that is, to be a member of the club, France was on Spain´s way: once again.
As I´ve told before, misunderstandings have played a big role in French-Spanish relations. In this case, things weren´t different, but contrary to the public knowledge, France didn´t oppose directly to Spain´s entry in the club. In fact, there was one sector which was from 1975 on, always favorable to Spain´s entry: Industry.
Industry was favorable because the 1970 Treaty was harmful to it, as Spain was allowed to maintain high duties on French products, so the only way to get better was to have Spain as a member of the club. Why isn´t this known? Several reasons:
1-There were other sectors in France which opposed directly to the entrance: in particular fishing and agriculture, being the last one an economy sector with a great power in France (today maybe not that much, but anyway they still have a huge importance: we only have to take a look at the CAP budget).
2-ETA. Spain´s young democracy had a lot of problems to worry about. ETA was one of the main ones. The spiral of murders started before Franco´s dead in 1975, but after it, they became more and more numerous. Spain accused France of helping ETA´s members to scape.
3-The media. In one side of the Pyrenees and in the other one (but mainly in Spain), the media acted irresponsibly, putting more difficulty in the way to resolve the problems between both countries.
In 1975, before and after Franco´s death, the President of France, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing advised Juan Carlos for his firsts steps after becoming the King (he even went to his coronation). The problem was that France wasn´t really prepared yet to have its neighbor as a partner in the CE.
Anyway, and although the negotiations were very hard, Spain achieved the goal to become a member of the CE in 1986, at the same time as Portugal, and only five years before Greece (the so-called “South Enlargement”). To make it happen, a new President of France, François Mitterrand (the only socialist on power in France in the Fifth Republic, apart from François Hollande, the incumbent) took office and so Felipe Gonzalez did the same in Spain.
In 1983 Mitterrand decided to unblock negotiations and do the impossible to reach an agreement. Not only Spain got into the CE, as we know, but also signed with France, the “Declaration Commune Franco-Espagnole”, which had as objectives to improve relations between both countries in any field and to celebrate a meeting every year from that moment on.
Since 1986 and apart from some isolated issues, such as some border problems with transportation trucks (mainly related to strawberries) and the 2012 puppet show affair (the ironic tv show which talked about the Spanish problem with doping), relations among the two countries are deeper and better than ever before.
Nevertheless, it is a pity that the feeling of mistrust against the French people, associated with the issues we´ve talked in this article, still persists on the Spaniards.
Salvador Llaudes (this is a fragment of a Master thesis called “Relations entre la France et l’Espagne pendant la transition espagnole, 1975-1986”)