‘I love this country; we are good for each other’. Spanish ambassador to the UK speaks to La Revista
- Posted by Amy Bell
- On February 25, 2022
The Spanish ambassador to the UK, José Pascual Marco, spoke to BSS chairman Jimmy Burns Marañón for La Revista, just days after meeting Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
You can watch video of the interview on the BritishSpanish Society’s YouTube channel
José Pascual Marco arrives at his official residence in Belgrave Square , a little late but ready for action (writes Jimmy Burns). Dealing with the unpredictabilities of London traffic goes with the job, and he is happy to engage, reenergised with a strong Spanish cup of coffee.
Unprompted, he declares his appreciation for the volunteers of the BritishSpanish Society, a charity with a clear of mission of engagement between the peoples of both countries.
“We really appreciate the work the Society’s is doing and we are one hundred per cent behind it. Bienvenidos, un saludo a los miembros del BritishSpanish Society. Haceis un trabajo fenomenal y contais con la admiracion y el apoyo de esta embajada.”
It’s been a busy week. Marco, who arrived as new ambassador to the UK last September, two days earlier visited Buckingham Palace to present his letter of credence. “I found her Majesty on very good form. She obviously was well briefed. She knew that relations between our two countries are very important. She remembered fondly her last visit to Spain (October 1988). All in all it was a very fruitful and productive conversation.” He hinted that the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations later this year might provide an opportunity for a visit by a Spanish Royal, but time will tell….
Personable as well as dynamic, Marco is a hugely experienced diplomat with earlier postings straddling four continents and, prior to London, similarly high level assignments that drew on his EU expertise, not least in his dealings with the UK . British diplomats rate him highly, personally and professionally.
“I became a diplomat because I wanted to know other countries and the people who lived in them and how they thought…I started in Pakistan in the 1980’s- imagine, The Soviets were in Afghanistan. It was a hotspot of international intrigue ..and then I went to Nicaragua and the Sandinistas had taken over and there were the Contra activities and the country was in conflict and turmoil, then I moved to Australia, South Africa…so I have had my share of experience and have seen many things in four different continents…”
As a teenager , he studied at a Catholic boarding school near Nottingham , ‘among the fantastic experiences of my life.’ So he was delighted when he got the London appointment which he describes as his ‘dream job’ despite the evident challenges of recovering from the pandemic and navigating Brexit.
‘I love this country. I really think the fit is very good with Spain. We are good for each other. We really get along with each other. I have a clear mandate from the government to make sure that after Brexit our relations are nurtured and continue growing as they were when we were together in the EU.’
Marco recognises the importance of tourism in the relationship between both countries. He does not want to be drawn into any criticism of mass tourism. ‘Let’s not be elitist, all people must have the opportunity to have a good time.’ But moving forward he says there is a need to give careful thought not just about volumes but what kind
of tourism best benefits the planet. ‘We want to use the experience of the pandemic to reset and offer all tourists to Spain a more sustainable and ecological and fair experience.’
On the broader issue of trade and investment, the ambassador has no doubts of the ‘extraordinary positive and important role’ played by Spanish companies in the UK while also encouraging UK companies to invest in Spain :
‘We are the number one investor in the UK for some years and we bring expertise, we bring capital, efficiency in fulfilling contracts …Our experience here is very good…The UK is an open and competitive economy and its one of the great advantages the UK has…and we hope it is kept that way…and that there no temptations to backslid, looking for national champions or national tenders…As long as companies and investors are treated fairly as they have been treated up to the present…this will be one of the strong points of the UK economy…’
As for Brexit challenges, one of the ‘biggest worries’ for his government and his embassy is ensuring the mobility of Spanish and UK students going both ways. ‘ We have the limits of EU legislation and British legislation in the context of Brexit which has made things a lot more difficult… But we are exploring ways bilaterally improving mobility and especially youth mobility..We have already had three meetings at technical level with the UK authorities. We are now going to have the fourth one, and we do hope to improve conditions…’
With reference to the BritishSpanish Society’s scholarship programme for British and Spanish students, the latest award ceremony of which he hosted last autumn and will do so again this year , he reiterated this full support, encouraging companies and member to help fund it.‘What you are doing at the BSS is not only giving a chance in helping young people for their studies but also creating a network of young people who love both countries and who can do important things for both countries…’
On a lighter personal note, Marco shared his enthusiasm for tennis- he plays regularly, and, of course, is a huge fan of Rafa Nadal who he hopes will return to and win at Wimbledon this summer. In addition to appreciating good Spanish wine and food, the ambassador is passionate and, similarly, very knowledgeable about culture.
He pays particular tribute to the dancer and choreographer Tamara Rojo the artistic director of the English National Ballet , who is stepping down later this year after 10 years in the role. ‘Tamara’ has introduced ground breaking works into the ENB’s repertoire, including more than 40 works choreographed by women . She is to take up a role of artistic director at San Francisco Ballet.
Asked to name the best performance he has seen since he arrived in London last autumn, he says: ‘It was Tamara Rojo’s premier of Raimunda in London’s Coliseum. Tamara is universal and very admired and loved in the UK .’
I asked him if he could recommend to students of Spain, his favourite books, films, and unexplored places in Spain. Back came the answers
Books: ‘El Quixote…but also read El Buscon by Quevedo, one of the great novels of all time, so funny…and then I am great lover of Perez Galdos’s La Regentam one of the great realist novels of the 19th century.’ In Modern times, there is Tiempo de Silencio, then Nada by Carmen Laforet, great novels of postwar Spain.
And then we are great country for poets…it has to be Quevedo once again-his metaphysical sonnets are fantastic and his love sonnets…(At this point the ambassador breaks into a Quevedo sonnet)
Al oro de tu frente unos claveles
Veo matizar, cruentos, con heridas;
Ellos mueren de amor, y a nuestras vidas, Sus amenazas les avisan fieles……
That is one of the best rolling ‘r’s’ in our language. But then there is Lorca, Vicentre Aleixandre…so many of our poets…
Films: We are spoilt for choice… We have always been great at painting and great in cinema… Personally I love Luis Garcia Berlanga’s El Verdugo, one of my favourite films of all time…You have the films of Luis Buñuel , now Almodóvar…
Unexplored places: ‘Depends on the season and your time in life…but I love Cadiz. I go there in the summer but you can go there any time in the year….Andalucia, the towns round Madrid-Avila, Segovia out of season…Toledo, leave the car and go to that wonderful Cathedral and see the choir at two levels- one of the most beautiful choirs in Europe…Or you can go to the mountains of Asturias…beautiful country.’
The conversation between the ambassador and the author and journalist Jimmy Burns took place on February 17. It was filmed and photographed by BSS member Josefina Garcia.