France–Spain relations

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French–Spanish relations
Map indicating locations of France and Spain



France and Spain neighbour each other, with a long border across the Pyrenees. The two countries are member states of the European Union which use the Euro as currency, and are both also members of NATO and the Latin Union.

Two of the most powerul kingdoms of the early modern era, France and Spain fought a 24-year war (the Franco-Spanish War) until the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. Its location, the Pheasant Island between the two nations, has since been a condominium, changing its allegiances each six months.

The nations co-operated against the separatist group ETA, who fought for an independent Basque Country with land from both countries.


Early relations[edit]

The entire mainlands of both Gaul and Hispania were possessions of the Roman Empire.[1]

The Franco-Spanish War broke out in 1635, when French king Louis XIII felt threatened that his entire kingdom was bordered by Habsburg territories, including Spain. In 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees ended the war and ceded the Spanish-possessed Catalan county of Roussillon to the France, which had supported the Catalans in a revolt against the Spanish crown. Western Flanders, roughly equivalent to the modern French department of Nord, was also ceded.[2] An anomaly of the treaty was that although all villages in Roussillon were ceded to France, Llivia was deemed to be a city and was therefore retained by Spain to the present day as an exclave two miles into France.[3] The treaty was signed on Pheasant Island, an uninhabited, unserviced island in the Bidasoa river between the French commune of Hendaye and the Spanish municipality of Irun. Both settlements, and therefore their countries, take sovereignty of the island for six months a year each.[4]

In 1701, after the death of the last Habsburg king of Spain, Charles II, the French House of Bourbon, led by Louis XIV, staked a claim to the Spanish throne. The war ended with the Bourbon Phillip V being recognised as King of Spain.[5] The House of Bourbon remains on the Spanish throne to the present day.

Revolutionary France and Bourbon Spain signed the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1796 as part of their shared opposition to Britain. The relationship strained after defeat in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar, and in 1808, French Emperor Napoleon named his brother Joseph as King of Spain as part of a plan to get closer to invading Britain's ally, Portugal. The Bourbon king Ferdinand VII was imprisoned by Napoleon, but still remained recognised as Spanish monarch by Napoleon's adversaries. He returned to the throne in 1813 after Britain and Portugal's victory (vastly helped by Spanish soldiers and rebels) in the Peninsular War.

Under Franco[edit]

Border stone between France and the exclaved Spanish city of Llivia. After a stalled deal to allow the defeated Republican Army control the city, France permitted Franco to control it.

When the Nationalist forces of General Francisco Franco were victorious at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, there was discussion of Llivia, a small exclaved Spanish city two miles into France, becoming territory of the defeated Republican Army. No conclusion was reached and the French authorities allowed the Nationalists to occupy Llivia.[6]

With the restoration of the French government in the latter part of the Second World War, relations between Spain and France became more complex. Exiled Spanish Communists had infiltrated northern Spain from France via the Val d'Aran but were repelled by Franco's army and police forces.[7] The border between the two countries was temporarily closed by the French in June 1945. It was closed indefinitely on March 1, 1946, following the execution of the Communist guerilla Cristino García in Spain. The Franco government criticized the action, commenting that many refugees from France had used the same border to escape to safety in Spain during the war. Several days after the border closing, France issued a diplomatic note along with the United States and Britain calling for the formation of a new provisional government in Madrid.[8]

Additionally, Spain's formerly close relationship with Italy and Nazi Germany led to suspicion and accusations. Some Nazis and French collaborators fled to Francoist Spain at or following the end of the war, most notably Pierre Laval, who was turned over to the Allies in July 1945. One French report claimed that 100,000 Nazis and collaborators were sheltered in Spain; the Soviet Union declared there were 200,000 Nazis in the country and that Franco was manufacturing nuclear weapons and intended to invade France in 1946.[9]

With the advent of the Cold War, relations gradually improved. The Pyrenean border was re-opened again in February 1948.[10] Several months later France (along with Britain) signed a commercial agreement with the Franco government.[11] Relations further improved in 1950 when the French government, concerned about international subversion, forced the Spanish Communist Party to leave France.[12]

Franco-Spanish relations improved further with the founding of the French Fifth Republic in 1958. Despite the rebel French general Raoul Salan finding sanctuary among Falangists in Spain for six months in 1960-61, the French finance minister visited Madrid in April 1963 to conclude a new commercial treaty.[13]

When Spain was led by general Francisco Franco, the French believed that ETA attacks were aimed at overthrowing the government of Franco, and did not feel targeted by ETA. However, when the attacks continued after the death of Franco, France started a collaboration with the Spanish government against ETA.

Modern history of Spain-France relations[edit]

In recent years, due to an improving economy in Spain, the balance between France and Spain has shifted somewhat. The balance has also changed because of liberalisation of the Spanish society since the death of Franco in 1975.


Spain and France (with Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and Poland) are members of the G6 (a group of the 6 most important countries of the European Union). Through the G6, France and Spain cooperate on the areas of defence, economic development and European Constitution.

Cultural exchange[edit]

The Musée Picasso in the French capital Paris houses work by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, resident in the city from 1901 until his death in 1973.

A Eurostat publication estimated 122,385 French citizens in Spain and 128,000 Spanish citizens in France,[14] while it is also estimated that 144,039 people in France were born in Spain.[15] The Spanish Civil War and hardship immediately after spurred Spanish migration to the more developed and democratic France, which had a labour shortage in the aftermath of the Second World War.[16] The Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, resident in the French capital Paris since 1901, was refused naturalisation shortly after Franco took control of Spain, but remained in Paris until his death in 1973.[17]