A Dutch economist and long-time resident of Spain explains why he sees the country as Europe's ticking time bomb.
By Vincent Werner
There are five potential time bombs in Spanish society that are threatening to plunge the country into crisis and weaken the stability of Europe.
1. Inactive youth
According to the OECD, the percentage of youngsters who neither study nor work is at 26 percent. For years, people have been talking about them, but no one seems to talk with them. Their careers tend to progress from unemployment benefit to unemployment benefit.
On the one side, society shows them that people with degrees don’t necessarily go higher and further. On the other, they see the low salaries and unfair practices of employers. Many are demotivated and live with their parents, well into their 30s. Of the few young people who actually make it through university, a growing percentage is leaving Spain to live and work abroad. Spain is left with a future generation of unprepared, dependent people.
When an EU-country does not take care of its people, historical precedent suggests violent political or ideological actions can follow.
In 1978, a major initiative was put into place to decentralise the country. Spain’s territory was split up into 17 autonomous regions, which are called comunidades autónomas. With this change, Spain got itself four levels of government: national, regional, provincial and local. And with this division, exercising control became increasingly difficult on all levels, mainly due to the many unnecessary jobs created everywhere.
Right before the introduction of the Euro, the number of public companies in Spain tripled. These unproductive organisations employ thousands upon thousands of people, cost tremendous amounts money and hinder transparency. As it turns out, many of these companies were also responsible for large parts of the debt that crippled Spain.
How does this impact the EU? EU corporations are having to navigate these complex and sluggish structures, and are unable to “cut and paste” their business templates into Spain. This hurts their efficiency and their profits. As Spain is the 4th largest EU-economy, this affects the overall performance of the EU.
3. Police services
There are more than 15 regional and national police services in Spain and they are not efficient at sharing information. Delays in sharing information regarding terrorist cells, for example, between the Guardia Civil and the Catalan police forces (Mossos d’Esquadra) can have devastating consequences and threaten the lives of EU citizens.
The unreliable flow of information flies in the face of Europe’s mission to establish greater cooperation between police and the judiciary in criminal matters. How can this be realised on an international level if there are communication issues at national level? Will the safety of the EU be jeopardized?
The Spanish government and judicial apparatus are intertwined. As a result, sentences handed out by judges can be easily reversed at the Supreme Court to protect prime politicians and their friends. There are numerous examples of this practice.
When was the last time a sitting head of government was forced to testify as a witness in the corruption case of his own party, and still continue as the leader of the country? It’s a challenge to recall this in any other European state, but it happened here in Spain only last year. Despite questions over Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s testimony, the judge in the case has not followed up with additional requests for clarification. And Rajoy is in no way unique; many other Spanish politicians including former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar have had their own brushes with the law, although often, as in the case of the latter, charges didn’t stick. How does this impact the EU? The interwining of politics and the judicial system hinders fairness for citizens, immigrants and international businesses in Spain, but Spain’s reputation is also the reputation of the EU on a global scale.
The standoff with Catalonia clearly demonstrates the flaws in politics in Spain. Both the central government and the Catalan government have shown the world they are incapable of dialogue and/or solving the complex issues at hand.
The Partido Popular has pursued a campaign since 2006 to undo the autonomy statute for the Catalonia region, and after Rajoy’s party came to power in 2011, they revoked a deal that had been modeled after the existing autonomy deal given to the Basque people. This has led to a stand off culminating in calls from the international community to intervene on behalf of both parties, as the Partido Popular has been viewed as abusing their power to remove political opponents. Big mistakes have been made on both sides and the tense situation is deadlocked. Why is this a time bomb? Catalonia could actually separate and if it were to come to pass, it could motivate other regions in Europe with similar issues to follow suit, threatening the stability of the EU.
Vincent Werner is a Dutch economist. He has lived in Spain for 17 years and is the author of "It Is Not What It Is: The Real (s)Pain of Europe."
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