Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Despite a return to growth, Spain receives low rankings in international comparison (rank 33) for its economic policy. Its score in this area has improved by 0.7 points since 2014.

A surprisingly strong recovery is underway, driven by exports and domestic demand. Growth rates reached a 10-year high in 2015. However, GDP and per capita income were still below pre-crisis levels. Unemployment rates, though falling, remain cripplingly high.

Labor-market policies have increased flexibility and reduced pay, making the economy more competitive at the expense of job security and wages. Undeclared work and a dual labor market remain problems. Tax collection is low by EU standards. Recent tax cuts follow crisis-era tax increases.

Fiscal restraint has reduced borrowing costs, but both the deficit and debt remain unsustainably high.

The crisis has diminished already-low R&D funding further. Despite weaknesses, the country participates actively in international financial forums.

Social Policies

With safety nets strained by ongoing crisis, Spain falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 25) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure has increased by 0.1 point since 2014.

Education outcomes are mediocre due to a high influx of immigrants, out-of-date curriculum and teaching-quality concerns. A controversial education-reform law has sought to introduce competition into the system, reducing access for poor students. Social exclusion is a growing problem, with child-poverty rates particularly high.

While well regarded, the health care system has deteriorated in quality. Overall spending and inclusiveness have declined, but cost efficiency has improved. Family policy is underdeveloped, with traditional gender roles persisting. A tax credit for large families has been implemented, and a new family-support plan has been approved. Women’s workplace pay gap is large.

Retirement-age and other reforms have somewhat improved pension-system sustainability. Immigrants’ integration is facilitated by broad societal tolerance.

Environmental Policies

Despite some recent bright spots, Spain’s overall environmental-policy score falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 28) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.4 points since 2014.

Energy consumption and emissions have declined since the onset of crisis, though emissions have remained above Kyoto Protocol targets. Economic incentives for renewable energy have been rolled back. Cities are beginning to address serious air-quality problems.

Coastal development has been deregulated, restarting potentially environmentally destructive construction projects, but the expansion of the national-park network has improved wildlife protections.

The country has not actively contributed to the design of international environmental regimes.



Quality of Democracy

With mixed strengths and weaknesses, Spain falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 29) with respect to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points since 2014.

Electoral laws are fair. A new political-party-funding law imposes spending thresholds and contribution limits. Referenda are possible, though hurdles to success are high. The public-media system has lost independence, undermining its credibility and ratings. Private-media concentration is rising, but diverse opinions remain available, particularly online.

Access to government information has been significantly improved, but bureaucratic hurdles remain. While civil rights and political liberties are generally respected, a controversial new public-safety law is widely viewed as an anti-protest tool. Anti-discrimination laws are strong, though informal prejudice persists.

The judicial system is strong and independent, but slow. Austerity-era court fees have been eliminated. Corruption levels have declined since the real-estate bubble burst, and a new anti-corruption agency has been announced.



Executive Capacity

Focused heavily on crisis management, Spain receives a middling overall score (rank 19) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has fallen slightly this year, but represents a 0.1 point improvement relative to 2014.

The crisis refocused attention on sustainable policymaking, though reform momentum has flagged. Central strategic-planning units have been strengthened. The powerful prime minister’s office consults closely with line ministries on high-profile policy development. Top-level coordination is more effective than mid-level interdepartmental interaction.

A newly passed law should produce a more sophisticated RIA process. Sustainability has not previously been a systematically reviewed factor. With a few notable exceptions, the government has spent little effort seeking social-partner support for its major crisis-era reforms. Parliamentary majorities have enabled efficient implementation.
Public spending cuts have also affected the regional governments, but central-government liquidity support has enabled them to carry out their most important policy tasks.

Executive Accountability

Despite some bright spots, Spain receives a middling overall score (rank 20) in the area of executive accountability. Its score on this measure has fallen slightly this year, but represents a 0.1 point improvement relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have limited resources, but oversight powers are adequate. The audit office’s party-influenced appointments process hampers its independence, while the ombuds office is autonomous and influential.

Traditionally showing little interest in politics, Spanish citizens have paid more attention since the onset of crisis. The media has responded with improved policy coverage. Most citizens watch TV news, which is generally objective and balanced.

The party landscape has expanded dramatically, with parties evincing varying internal-governance styles. Economic associations have become more sophisticated in recent years. Other civil-society organizations have less influence.
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