UK and Spain slip in global ‘soft power’ ranking

The election of Emmanuel Macron as president has helped propel France to the top of a league table of global “soft power”, while Britain’s score has decreased partly as a result of Brexit.
But despite losing points for government stability, enterprise and favourability measured in worldwide polls, the UK hung on to second slot, thanks to the US tumbling from first to third following the election of Donald Trump.
Spain also slipped in the Soft Power 30 ranking, reflecting the country’s limited digital capabilities and its business reputation despite a strong cultural presence globally.
The report by communications firm Portland in partnership with the University of Southern California said Britain’s influence in the world had taken a hit, particularly among EU member states.
The future of the UK’s “soft power” will depend on whether Brexit results in the creation of a “global Britain”, as the UK Government hopes, or puts the country on a protectionist and nationalist path, said Portland’s Jonathan McClory.
Britain’s performance was boosted by internationally recognised brands such as the Premier League, world-leading creative and financial industries and assets such as the British Council and BBC World Service, said the report.
Mr Macron’s promise of increased global engagement and leadership from Paris fuelled France’s move from fifth to first place, on the back of long-standing strengths in diplomacy, culture and tourism.
Spain slipped from 12th position in the ranking in 2016 to number 15 this year.
The report’s authors said that despite retaining impressive cultural soft power through “unrivalled” cuisine and climate, Spain had been “leapfrogged in the digital sphere” by a wave of “savvy young digital diplomats”.
The report’s authors nonetheless said that, with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy back in government for a second term in office, the political uncertainty that had plagued the country for 10 months had now come to an end.
“When Rajoy unexpectedly threw a Gibraltar-sized spanner into the Brexit process and hosted world leaders in Madrid in April 2017, it was suddenly clear that Spain sees an opportunity to regain influence at a time when other European countries are absorbed in their own problems,” the report said.
With the economy returning to pre-crisis levels and its current account in the surplus, Spain could well enjoy a strong end to 2017 and further repair the damage to its reputation caused by the 2008 meltdown, the authors of the study noted.
“If soft power was purely based on cultural assets, Spain could continue without deviation or hesitation,” the report said.
“What’s clear though is that its digital capabilities and business reputation are lagging too far behind for it to return to the international fold as a major player, as [Spanish prime minister Mariano] Rajoy would like.”
“Spain naturally engages with people across the world, but the question remains as to how this translates into economic benefits for its people.”
The drop was even sharper for the US, which fell almost 10 points in international polling.
Germany and Canada were each down one place to fourth and fifth respectively in the ranking, which measures countries’ ability to attract, influence and persuade people from around the world.
Japan rose one place to sixth, one of a number of Asian states – including China – which increased their soft power this year.
“Looking at the objective metrics in this year’s Soft Power 30, not much has changed for the UK,” Mr McClory said.
“However, the international polling shows that British soft power has taken a hit, particularly in EU member countries.”
“The next two years will be critical for the future of Britain’s global influence.”
“As the UK prepares to exit the European Union, British soft power will hinge on whether HM Government can deliver on the concept of ‘Global Britain’ and ensure the UK is a champion of openness, tolerance and international collaboration.”
“If so, then British soft power – and global influence – can be safeguarded.”
“If the UK takes a protectionist and nationalist turn, however, it is likely that there will continue to be downward movement in the UK’s performance in the Soft Power 30 in the future.”

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