The Generational Balance of Power in Spain

Emilio García

5 mins - 2 de Febrero de 2024, 07:00

In the now classic work “Why nations fail: The origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty”, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson argue that it is the institutions that govern a given territory that will make it prosper. A country’s institutions, however, are not born or grow out of nothing or by spontaneous generation; it is the people who inhabit their territories who establish them, shape them, and give them life. An invisible actor also intervenes in the construction of institutions: time, which, with its passing, moulds the population of the territory, giving rise to different generations that will intervene in the process.

In the development of Spain’s current institutional architecture, several generations have acted and are participating. Generational taxonomy is always debatable, but an acceptable approach is that presented by Oriol Bartomeus in his latest essay, “El peso del tiempo” (The Weight of Time). According to him, there are four major generational groups active in our country: the post-war generation (1940-1960), the generation of development (1961-1975), the generation of the sons and daughters of democracy (1976-2007) and the generation of the crisis (from 2008 onwards). Bartomeus uses this generational division to explain the evolution of the relationship between citizenship and politics, which is also suitable for other reflections and analyses.

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The intervention of each generation in institutional development is not constant but depends on the time that shapes them. The weight of each generation in a given period is greater to the extent that it is the dominant one with respect to the other generations in the spheres of power. Consequently, we should expect great institutional changes in those periods of generational changeover in the positions of a nation with the capacity to command. Bartomeus notes in his work that we are living through one of these moments of change, in which the post-war generation is abandoning power in favour of the later generations, with an apparent leap from the generation of development to the generation of democracy. Does this assertion correspond to the situation in the spheres of power?

At the national political level, both in Congress and in the Spanish Government, the quota of representation of the daughters and sons of democracy is already significant. In the former, 40% of the representatives of the popular will are already close to the youngest of the generations, with a majority in the parliamentary groups of Vox and Sumar. In the national executive, a third of the people heading a ministry were born after 1975. This is indeed a relevant position taken by the generation of democracy in the state’s decision-making environments, but it is still far from being decisive in the shaping of its political leadership.

The share of power held by each generation in regional politics is similar to that held in state politics. Overall, just over 30% of the presidencies and regional councils of the Autonomous Communities are held by members of the democracy generation, while the development generation continues to hold 63%. Only in two regional governments, Madrid and Murcia, are those born after the end of the Franco regime in the majority. Nevertheless, it is significant that seven of the regional governments are already presided over by a son or daughter of democracy.

Those born after 1975 are even further away from holding significant positions of command in spheres of power outside of popular representation. Proof of this is the situation in large companies and the media. Marta Ortega, at Inditex, is an exception, representing the generation of democracy in the group of people who occupy the presidency or top executive level in the companies that make up the IBEX35. Within the country’s main private audiovisual media groups (A3Media, Mediaset, Prisa, Vocento, Unidad Editorial), the situation is even more extreme, with all their CEOs belonging to the development generation. Nor is the situation more favourable to the generation of democracy in institutions that counterbalance the executive and legislative powers (such as the Constitutional Court, the General Council of the Judiciary ,or the National Market and Competition Commission) or the Royal Household (whose leadership will be transferred in the coming days from the post-war generation to the generation of development).

In conclusion, the development generation controls the levers of power in Spain. It will not be until the next decade that the sons and daughters of democracy will have sufficient weight to redefine our political, economic, and social institutions. In a derivative of Bartomeus’ generational profile, we have to expect that those born after 1975 will make relevant changes (or at least try to) to a Magna Carta that they will hardly feel as their own, will constitute an economic power challenging the doctrine of multinational institutions in which heterodoxy is the new generational economic orthodoxy, and will accelerate the final phase of the integration and merger of the audiovisual media with the Internet.

In short, a final scenario of radical institutional renewal awaits us and will mark the passage of time. This will depend on a smooth transition in which the generation of development gradually and without reluctance cedes power to the generation of democracy. To this end, individual success stories that spread to the rest of the social and economic fabric will be critical. Key examples could be a Royal House in which the monarch cedes an increasingly relevant role to his heiress, or the progressive elevation of those born after Franco’s regime to the highest responsibilities in the national executive. The continuity of our success as a country will depend on all of this.
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