Neighbours Spain and France have for centuries been rivals. At one stage it was focused on the expansion of their empires across the globe, in more recent times it’s been the promotion of their gastronomy, language and culture overseas.
In the 21st century, their relationship has turned into friendly competitiveness as both nations have grown closer together; they’ve even brokered a dual nationality agreement recently.
But a survey by Spain’s Elcano Royal Institute for International and Strategic Studies reveals that there continues to be a sense of superiority on the part of the French towards Spain, which contrasts with Spaniards’ ingrained inferiority complex.
Citizens from both nations agree that France is better on most fronts – they have a stronger economic system, a better democracy, more developed scientific and technological industries, and more power and influence on the global stage.
To give an example, only half of French respondents could name a Spanish brand (Zara and Seat being the best known), whereas Spaniards were quick to name Carrefour, car manufacturers Renault, Peugeot and Citroen as well as French cosmetic brands.
However, both French and Spanish people concurred, albeit to a lesser extent, that the quality of life, cultural offering and sporting level are better in Spain, with Spaniards tending to be more convinced about this than the French.
For the study, 1,001 people from each country were asked a series of questions relating to their views on the EU, current economic and social affairs, the war in Ukraine, as well as their opinions about each other’s countries.
Asociación Diálogo (Dialogue Association), a group which promotes France-Spain relations, also took part in the research.
French tourists cross over into Spain more often than Spaniards visit France, which according to Real Instituto Elcano researcher Carmen González has helped to improve French people’s views about Spain overall, including Spanish infrastructure.
French people consider Spaniards friendly, but a majority of Spanish respondents don’t feel the same about their Gallic neighbours.
When asked to define themselves, both French and Spanish respondents referred to their own societies as tolerant, democratic, trustworthy and traditional, whilst stressing that they have a distinct cultural identity.
A greater percentage of Spaniards considered themselves first from their city or region rather than from Spain as a whole, whereas French people identify first with being French. On the other hand, two thirds of Spanish respondents are happy to be identified as European, whereas only 42 percent of French respondents have a positive view of belonging to the EU.
Seventy-nine percent of Spaniards also defined their country as emotionally-driven, whereas French people believed they were more split between emotion and rationality.
Around 60 percent of respondents from both countries agreed that a strong bilateral relationship between Spain and France is important, whether it be in the fight against terrorism, energy, economic ties or tourism.
Whatever their differences, it’s clear that French and Spaniards have put past rivalries behind them and have a mutual admiration for each other’s countries.