And Then What, Spain?

Andrés Ortega

8 mins - 23 de Junio de 2023, 07:05

In this campaign, as in so many others, programmes, balance sheets, or visions will matter little. Emotions will dominate. And yet, we are gambling with our future, for Spain faces a variety of serious challenges. Some are our own problems, others we share with the rest of Europe, and others with the world. Problems about which too little is said.

First, which is essential, is how to construct an attractive present and future for young people, especially the youngest, and avoid a generational clash that is brewing and which, if left unchecked, will eventually explode. The baby boomers, in the process of retirement, are higher in population, and in voting power. And the millennials will have to be the guiding force. They all have been through almost three lustrums of crisis (the great recession, the pandemic, the ramifications of war), without forgetting the elderly killed by COVID-19. Young people and their difficulty in taking off professionally and in family life have suffered more, despite the fact that there is a global competition – Spain included – for talent. Although it has improved, we have the second highest youth unemployment rate (over 29%) in the OECD in addition to the highest age for women to have their first child (31, compared to 25 in 1980). There must be a reason why Vox has made so much progress among these cohorts, especially among 18-21-year-old males – a protest vote, no doubt. But indeed, they are protesting about something. Is there really going to be any talk in this campaign, in the public debates, of Spain’s demographic problems?

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Another concern, which consciously or not remains in the air as is reflected in some surveys and public conversation in media and networks, is how to prevent Artificial Intelligence (AI), in the face of its new leaps (after generative comes adaptive), automation, and digitalisation, necessary for Spain to gain productivity, from decimating jobs and salaries on a vast scale, now that both have increased, and generating more inequality and even more poverty, not to mention changing the way politics are done and dealt. There are steps that can show the way: Brazil’s current Constitution mentions (art.7.27) “measures to protect workers from automation, in accordance with the provisions of the law”, but these have not been fully developed. Recently, a labour court in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria declared that a dismissal due to automation of the job to be unjustified, although it may go against the principle of freedom of enterprise, given that there was no specific prior legislation.

Third, the question stands of how to design a fight against climate change that improves the environment – an urgent task – but one that does not cut off the standard of living or the way of life of many citizens? This is being questioned in many European countries (France, Germany, etc., and even in the USA). Watch out. Phenomena such as the “yellow vests” can occur in other countries and have to do with the growth of a denialist radical right. But the environment continues to deteriorate. Even more so with the new AI that uses enormous amounts of electricity. But even in the EU and its regulatory considerations, little is said about this. And then what?

Fourth. How can we achieve a European Union that is more responsive to Spain’s interests? We are certainly benefiting from the NextGeneration Fund, not just because of the money, but because of its transformative momentum. It is unlikely to be repeated. But in the last 14 years (as different governments) we have lost ground and relative wealth (from 105% of the EU-27 average in GDP per capita in 2007 to 83% in 2021) – although we are on the road to recovery. The solution cannot come only from Europe, but from within. The recent crises have affected us more than other neighbouring countries, both partners and competitors. And we are going to have to compete in terms of public aid to industry with very strong economies, such as the United States and China, and strong economies, such as Germany and France. Alright, the Recovery, Transformation, and Resilience Plan runs until 2026, and the current government wants to extend the deadline. This is the PSOE’s axis for the economic future. With the PERTES and other plans, we know where it is going. Does the PP want to change it? Can it, without endangering European funds? And then what?

Fifth, what is being proposed to end the war in Ukraine in a just way that is in Europe’s interest? Who is thinking about the aftermath? What costs and opportunities will it provide? It is in our interest for a plethora of reasons, not least of which to make Europe look more towards the South. What European and global order or structure should be embraced? It may be inevitable, but what are the consequences of Europe’s growing strategic dependence on the US, despite growing progress in the EU? Spain has something, quite a lot, to say, even if it will not act alone. What if Trump wins in November 2024? Foreign affairs affect us all fully. But too little is said about it.

Finally, how can we recover national harmony, in its various dimensions, and achieve a reform that adapts the Constitution to the lessons learned and the new needs? We are a country that, historically, has not known how to reform its constitutions, but rather to change regimes. The one we have has worked quite well. But it needs an aggiornamento. And this in turn requires an agreement between PSOE and PP and beyond.

We could go on, although little is being said about these issues in the real campaign, which has already begun. Naturally there are the issues of economic growth, the high cost of living, public education, public health, preserving social rights, gender rights (this is the focus of the debate, if it can be called that, in these first days and could mark the campaign), coming to terms with our history (inwards and outwards), etc. These are important issues, which as we fear, will be talked about very little. PP is waiting for power to fall into their hands through the defeat of the left, with no need for grand proposals for a project for the country, but rather for that simplistic but effective “anti-Sánchezism”. Feijóo has already made part of the campaign with his tous azimuts derogations, starting with the absurd “repeal Sánchezism”. Moreover, as Sánchez himself discovered with the labour reform (or Rajoy with the abortion law), repealing is very often not viable. Reform is the right word. But not to go backwards, but forwards. It must be explained.

Politics in the age of social networks, of messages of a few letters and a few seconds, are nowadays emotional, moved by hatred (for Sánchez, as before for Rodríguez Zapatero, and before him for González, the best ruler Spain has had in the 20th century, then criticised and today extolled by the same right), or by fears (of a right-wing further radicalised by an extreme right sect against which the cases of cordon sanitaire have failed in Europe, of a left-wing that is becoming more extreme, except in the United Kingdom).

Who is going to offer an exciting project for a common life (which we had during the Transition), which we need (and which, it must be admitted, no leader in any country is offering at the moment)? The proposals will not dictate the campaign, but the campaign – this kind of campaign – will surely avoid discussing them in depth, and inevitably we will be bombarded by emotionally charged issues. And then what? A question that applies to almost everything and everyone. Forgive my naivety.
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