Belgium -Brussels – I will tell you a key to understanding Spain: we can never be pessimistic with her. I’ll give you an example. If I had had to write this article a year ago, my text would certainly have been very different from the one I write today.
At that time, I would have had to speak to you of a country that was entering the time of uncertainty and was not clear on its future path.
I would have had to detail – in a much longer article than this one – the complications of a post-election scenario that might have been very entertaining for political analysts, but which were worrisome for the Spaniards and cast great doubts on the country’s governance. Everything was conspiring, in effect, to turn Spanish politics into a perfect storm: the rise of populism on the left, the arrival of new players in Parliament, the wearing down of traditional parties … And it is true that the Spanish have lived through 2016 with an exceptionality that this year has brought us all: for the first time in our democracy, repeated elections.
But here is where the surprise comes. The long period of a political interim situation has not affected one of the countries which, following the implementation of a strong reform program, came out more vigorous in terms of economic growth and job creation in the European Union.
And not only that. The Spanish learned the lessons of the elections of December 20, 2015, and after the new call in June 2016, the picture has changed. The parties – the big and the not so big – have managed to leave behind their biggest differences and forge broad agreements.
And there is a point of special relevance: Spanish society has put a stop to the growth of populism, something that has a unique merit in a year where populist proclamations have made a dent in some of the most settled democracies in the West.
Finally, the path from 2016 to 2017 may well be summarized in the conclusion of a recent article in The Economist: “Spain is starting to look like an island of relative political stability.”
The classical liberals and the reformists are well aware: the future is not written yet. 2017 begins with certain risks for the welfare of our societies, including the Spanish one. Terrorism continues to threaten our freedoms and our lives. Populism continues to act in various European countries – and not only European – with all its symptoms: from the discrediting of democratic institutions to Euroscepticism or outbreaks of xenophobia.
The Syrian wound continues to bleed in the eyes of all, and the management of migratory flows must become one of the central policies of the European Union. From Brexit to the new paths to be outlined by the Trump Administration, we see how the international situation abandons the geopolitical manuals in order to have a direct impact on our lives.
And if the interconnection of our economies has been an incentive for growth and prosperity, the threats remain: let us only think of the rise in the price of fossil fuels, possible changes in interest rates or the lack of liquidity in the financial sectors of key European countries.
The future is not written, we said. But politics has too many capacities to influence it. And if I stick to the Spanish case – the one I know best – caution can coexist with hope. Not only have we overcome pessimism in 2016, but the readers of this publication will remember how, upon the arrival of the Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy to the Government, Spain was holding the negative headlines in the international press.
In 2011, until well into 2013, my country seemed to embody all European ills, from unemployment to recession, from the public deficit to the problems of its financial system. I will not sin of triumphalism nor say that all problems are solved: much remains to be done.
But those problems have been addressed with reforms as sensible as ambitious, and the results are there: the same headlines that spoke of the pain in Spain now speak of Spain as back. Even in this new beginning of a minority government we have already managed to agree on measures of positive social impact, and we have strong incentives to agree new reforms, everything from the competitiveness of our business fabric to the efficiency of the public sector, the financing of our regional system or – key data for the future – the improvement of education.
True, reforms and agreements are not easy. But the responsibility for reform is the best tool of a politician: with it a politician removes pessimism among citizens, brings prestige back to the institutions, and underpins the welfare of societies.
That has been the key to success in Spain to date, and is the best way for Europe and Spain to make their way to the future in this 2017 which we are about to enter.