Agenda Pública El País – January 7
In a letter to Tomás Moro, Erasmo wrote that he would refuse an invitation from Cardinal Cisneros to teach at the University of Alcalá because he “did not like Spain”. That phrase became famous in our country and is often quoted in the historiography, lately more lucrative than rigorous, about the so-called Black Legend.
Well, with the political atmosphere so deteriorating and when all the consensus are resented, it seems that the various parties only agreed on the non placet Hispania of the sage of Rotterdam. The traditional invective of independence against the constitutional regime of 1978, is now joined by right-wing forces, who are clamoring against the representatives of half the Spaniards for having signed a government pact that supposedly leaves the homeland in the hands of terrorists and a group of coup plotters.
And, in turn, the left would see the opposition, which represents the other half of the citizenry, as a kind of ultra magma that will make the country unbreathable. No wonder, then, that those who try to keep positions focused (as well as much of the independent analysts) are dejected by the show. Spain today comes out quite ugly in the mirror and would do it not only because of the current confrontational climate, but also because of the government’s blockade of months, because of the alterations and instability of its party system for five years and (looking back to something else decade), by the chain of serious economic, social, institutional and, above all, territorial crises.
If between the Transition and 2008 we thought we had left Spain behind forever as a problem, there is a sense that since that date we have not stopped going back to worse versions of ourselves. Maximum when all this combination of objectively serious factors is linked to that universal tendency, which is practiced here with special emphasis, to look little at what is going on around or, where appropriate, to adopt the subjective perception that always finds the greenest grass to the another side. However, it would be sufficient to analyse the functioning of Spanish democracy in recent times with a comparative approach to reaching less bleak conclusions or, in any case, to understand the national landscape without resorting to overacting or exceptionalism.
It is not difficult to find in the environment more accused examples of all the elements that today strain our political system (parliamentary fragmentation, polarization and growth of extremist parties, governance difficulties or centrifugal patterns). All of Europe (not to mention the US) is experiencing unusual developments in electoral conduct, in the party system, and in the governorship. Therefore, before we are dismayed by the Spanish situation, it is worth reviewing them. Look at the fast-paced and disruptive pace at which the parties that characterized the political scene at the end of the 20th century are no longer acting as ideological and governing benchmarks. To this day, none of the traditional forces at the conservative or centre-left level are between the first two in France, Italy or the Netherlands. The social democracy no longer dominates Greece’s progressive space and is expected to soon stop in Germany or Austria. And, as far as the right is concerned, moderate options of government are being overtaken by populists in Belgium, Sweden or Finland. By contrast, Spain is one of the few cases in Western Europe where its two major parties survive in the lead (after having faced the tough competition of candidates in several recent elections) and where, in addition, they are expected to continue dominating on its perimeter.
It is true that, in parallel with this persistence of PSOE and PP, two forces have been born and grown to their left (Podemos) and to their right (Vox). As this eruption has been parallel to the incomprehensible renunciation of the other novelty (Ciudadanos) to act as a centrist spokesman, and neither has the confrontational political dynamics typical of Spanish democracy (which, on the other hand, we share with United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Ireland or almost all other countries in the South), as the only way out is to insert these more radical actors into governance.
This may be considered an extraordinary anomaly, but again, the comparative gaze dobly undone the excessive judgments. On the one hand, because the phenomenon is so widespread that most European countries have a stronger nationalist anti-immigration right, while only the UK or Italy lack alternative left-wing forces (sometimes very Eurosceptic) that don’t make a 10% vote intention.
And, on the other, because the famous sanitary cords are barely applied in Germany or France. In short, more than half of EU governments are or have recently been supported by such parties. Also the Spanish pathology related to the difficulty of forming government is also nuanced; including the need to repeat elections or changes of prime minister.
Practically all European democracies have experienced blockades or failures similar to those experienced in Spain in recent years, with prolific coalition negotiations that have lasted for months (and in some cases did not bear fruit), resignations or parliamentary censorship and electoral advances. In fact, of the 28 EU member states, there have only been five (Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Cyprus and Luxembourg) who have had less government instability than Spain since the Great Recession broke out.
Even if one looks at the main source of toxicity in Spanish politics in recent years, which is undoubtedly Catalan independence, it cannot be argued that it is an exclusive peculiarity. It is obvious that, being the majority of European states much more homogeneous from an identity point of view, the phenomenon cannot be as widespread as those mentioned above. But, however, if there are any Western European territory today where secession has some viability in the medium or long term (given that it is completely impossible in the short), we would have to look a lot earlier at the cases of Scotland, Flanders or Northern Ireland.
Of course, neither this nor anything of the above means that the complex Spanish political moment must be addressed from the unsophisticated perspective of the evil of many, but it is necessary to do so in establishing its true gravity comparative evidence. Among other things, because that includes the low real impact that (with the exception of Brexit or the serious deterioration of the democratic quality of Poland, Hungary or Romania) has so far had partisan polarization or the formation of governments more ideologically inclinated.
In fact, having both excessive fear and exaggerated expectations sympathizes little with the limited strength of today’s European governments, including the new one that has been formed in Spain. And the real problem is that, in such a harsh climate, it is impossible to undertake major reforms that necessarily demand consensus.
Whatever it is, it seems healthy to dedramatize. Moreover, if you read Erasmo’s letter and know his biography, it is proven that the Dutch thinker had many other national phobias and, when he had more information, he ended up claiming that Spain did not dislike him at all.