May 18, 2022 9:21 pm

The six months of José Manuel Albares, from “diplomat-alpha” to diminishing minister

“It’s a very exciting day for me, especially since I’m coming home.” Six months and four days have passed since José Manuel Albares stepped down as Spanish ambassador in Paris and took office as Minister of Foreign Affairs, EU and Cooperation and spoke these words at the Santa Cruz Palace, the historic headquarters of the Ministry. “There is no more honor for a Spaniard and also a diplomat than to represent Spain abroad,” he acknowledged.

The arrival of Albares was sold as that of a kind of ‘savior’, the perfect candidate to restore relations with Morocco. On the other hand, it seemed that he was going to put order in a ministry whose management had been procrastinated by his predecessor, Arancha González Laya.

At least that is how Juan González-Barba – a former friend of Albares, who was Secretary of State for the EU at the time – presented it to Pedro Sánchez. For president, however, Albares needed no introduction, having been part of his team for the 2015 general election.

In six months, 29 changes

During these months Albares has dedicated most of his time to turning the ministry around. The organizational chart has changed practically in its entirety since he set foot in Santa Cruz on July 12, 2021. There are five Secretaries of State and 18 other different faces at the head of the General Directorates. The same happens with the cabinet directors (both of the minister and of the five state secretaries) who add another six.

“The new dismissals and appointments have been unnecessarily extensive, especially when there has not been a change of color in the Government,” a foreign official tells ABC. Official sources of the ministry do not think the same. They consider that “it is within the usual practice that the arrival of a new minister brings a remodeling of the team” and they assure that in the case of the Diplomatic Career, the regime of forced mobility outside of Spain tends to influence.

That Albares has surrounded himself with people he trusts the most is not a crime and anyone would do it. But sources consulted by ABC affirm that these movements seek to “control everything”. In a clear reference to Jules Verne’s novel, the Albares appointments have been given the amusing nickname of ‘the captains of the 15 years’. They are called that for two reasons. “If you surround yourself with professionals who are older than you and therefore more experienced than you, they may know more than you. And that, an alpha-diplomat with Albares, does not like it. If anyone knows about everything, and a lot, it is him, ”says a diplomat. And he adds: «With them, Albares ensures a bomb-proof loyalty, because the directors know that they have not been appointed for their merits or abilities but for their unwavering fidelity and they will owe them absolute submission».

“Decision-making is centralized in him and he does not delegate to anyone,” explains another member of the Diplomatic Career. This has affected the operation of the ministry, which “is practically paralyzed”. Any query, whether for management or media issues, has to go through his Cabinet Director, Diego Martínez Belío, who transfers it to Albares for approval. “They intend to exercise seamless control of the circulating information and the papers produced by Foreign Affairs,” he points out.

The foreign portraits

Albares decides “even the smallest things.” So much so that he has supervised How far should the portraits of former ministers be placed? in the new headquarters of the Plaza del Marqués de Salamanca. Apparently, at first, the cadres of the PP ministers José Manuel García-Margallo and Alfonso Dastis were relegated to a corridor without much traffic. Also that of the socialist Trinidad Jiménez, of whom at the time “he hoped that he could give him some position” and it was not so.

In this sense, the appointment of political positions has generated considerable discomfort, as is the case of Irene Lozano in Casa Árabe, José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes as the new ambassador to UNESCO or Isabel Celaá in the Vatican; although the minister said this week that he had not appointed more than his predecessors. “We thought that being a diplomat he would be minimally sensitive to this matter,” adds another source, while warning that “Albares is no longer a diplomat, he is a politician who from the beginning of his career has only worked for himself and his only loyalty has been to Ferraz».

“A Nuclear Cataclysm”

The desire for control is the least important for a fairly large sector of the Diplomatic Career, which affirms that “the regime of terror” governs Foreign Affairs. One of them tells ABC that Albares “moves with ease in the world of conjuring” and that his “undesirable and rude manners” in a ministry where “good manners prevail” have led to “a nuclear cataclysm”, especially due to “the easy, derogatory and gratuitously hurtful shout”, which usually ends “in a threat”: “ He has a point of aggressiveness when it comes to leading that is not justified.

The worst part has been borne by the workers of the Embassy in Paris, who «They have needed psychological assistance to be able to endure the stay in Albares a little over a year.” Precisely there, “surrounded by locals and strangers”, he had a disagreement with Raquel Gómez-Cambronero, his general director for Europe. Some discussions he had with González-Barba and with the Secretary of State for International Cooperation, Pilar Cancela, were also talked about.

Leaving aside the administration of the ministry, the truth is that in terms of foreign policy everything remains the same in Spain. Albares declared last December that the crisis with Morocco “has been left behind”, but today the ambassador has not returned, from Rabat they are still waiting for a great gesture from Spain and he has only spoken twice on the phone with his counterpart Moroccan, Naser Burita.

As for the Afghanistan operation, “the evacuation has been sold as a foreign policy success, when in fact Spain was capable of carrying it out thanks to the protection of the USA, which marked all times, and because we have Armed Forces that work,” a source who was there tells ABC.

Albares also takes pride in the approval of the new International Cooperation Law, initiated by Josep Borrell, and the donation of 50 million vaccines to Latin American countries. The achievement that can be attributed to him is that of guaranteeing the permanence in Spain of the headquarters of the World Tourism Organization. Another, by no means minor, is that of having guaranteed the supply of gas in the midst of tensions between Algeria and Morocco.

Six months later, the policy of the “diplomat-alpha” seems to be that of a shrinking minister.

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