The Great Leap Forward In Search of a United Europe
Part 3: Democracy or Dictatorship?
On the periphery, Europe feels within reach, in the form of peace, freedom and the good life. For the Spaniards, all of these things are a byproduct of the blessing from Brussels that came to the Iberian Peninsula after the end of the Franco dictatorship. And after the introduction of the euro, the Spanish economy grew at a faster pace than average in the currency zone.
Since the international financial crisis sent Spain's burgeoning real estate sector into a tailspin and led to the collapse of the economy, the Spaniards feel that Europe expects them to live up to their obligations.
When the Socialist government, supported for the first time by the conservative People's Party, rushed through an amendment to the constitution in order to introduce a balanced-budget provision based on the German "debt brake" model, protestors took to the streets in front of the parliament building in downtown Madrid, which had been sealed off by the police. "They call it democracy, but it's a dictatorship," the young leaders of the protest shouted through megaphones from a truck at the head of the march, and the protestors chanted along.
Demonstrators young and old marched down the magnificent boulevard past the Prado museum, carrying homemade banners with slogans like: "No to the poverty legalized by the constitution."
And yet many Spanish politicians want Europe to survive. Shortly before the vote on the constitutional amendment on the morning of Sept. 2, the cafeteria in the parliament building was filled with people. Over the sound of rattling coffee cups, Socialist Alex Sáez confessed: "So far Europe has only brought us pleasant things. Now we politicians must explain to the citizens, in no uncertain terms, the obligations that we have."
Sáez, a Catalan from the picturesque town of Girona, is the deputy chairman of the Spanish parliament's European Committee and a member of its Foreign Affairs Committee. Sáez praises the complete political consensus among the parties represented in the committee. Only "more Europe" can help Spain emerge from the crisis, he says.
If the Europeans don't manage to join forces in a federation by the middle of the century, says Guillermo de la Dehesa, president of the London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research and one of Spain's top financial specialists, Europe will "fail." If that happens, he says, China, the United States and India will dominate the global economy. According to his research, not a single European country will be a member of the G-8 anymore.
Ironically, the Catalans and Basques, who have their own culture and language, which they cultivate, and who are increasingly pushing for extensive autonomy from Spain, strongly support political consolidation in the direction of a federation.
'A Pleasant Journey'
A party that professes euroskepticism cannot win an election in Spain. Even the conservative Popular Party (PP), which won Sunday's election, supports more European integration and advocates a course of austerity. Although the conservatives champion a strong central Spanish state, they would not be opposed to transferring more powers to the EU.
But Álvaro Nadal, a financial and European expert with the PP, wonders what the euro zone should do in the meantime while the United States of Europe is being developed. He proposes pushing forward on certain issues with those who are willing to participate -- a coalition of the willing for Europe, if you will.
For many Spanish politicians, the road to Brussels does seem promising. As their fellow Spaniard Javier Solana puts it, it will be a "pleasant journey" to a united Europe.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan