Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Despite a return to growth, Spain receives low rankings in international comparison (rank 35) for its economic policy. Its score in this area has improved by 0.8 points since 2014.

A vigorous recovery is underway, driven by exports and domestic demand. GDP growth was 3.2% in 2016, for the second year in a row. GDP and per capita income were still below pre-crisis levels, but were approaching 2008 levels quickly. Unemployment rates, though falling, remain cripplingly high, at 18.7% in late 2016.

Spending cuts have undermined active labor-market policies. A lack of labor-force flexibility, the prevalence of undeclared work and a dual labor market remain problems. Tax collection is low by EU standards. Recent tax cuts follow crisis-era tax increases.

Austerity policies have been somewhat relaxed, but both the deficit and debt remain unsustainably high. Borrowing costs have been reduced. The crisis diminished already-low R&D funding further. Despite weaknesses, the country participates actively in international financial forums.

Social Policies

With safety nets strained by the aftermath of crisis, Spain falls into the middle ranks internationally (rank 22) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure has increased by 0.4 points since 2014.

Education outcomes are mediocre due in part to out-of-date curriculum and teaching-quality concerns. Austerity policies have limited reforms to measures targeting quality and efficiency, which have in turn raised new access concerns. Social exclusion is a growing problem, with child-poverty rates particularly high. The share of employed people living under the poverty threshold is also very high.

While well regarded, the health care system has deteriorated in quality. However, cost efficiency has improved. Family policy is underdeveloped, with traditional gender roles persisting. A tax credit for large families has been implemented, and equal paternal leave was granted in 2016. Women’s workplace pay gap is large.

The pension system offered a strong shield against poverty even through the crisis, but is increasingly viewed as unsustainable. Despite little official government action in this areas, 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 25) in international comparison. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.6 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, potentially allowing environmentally destructive construction projects to resume, 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. Internal political difficulties prevented it from ratifying the Paris climate agreement in 2016.



Quality of Democracy

With mixed strengths and weaknesses, Spain falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 24) with respect to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 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 broadcasting system has lost independence, through parliamentary parties have agreed to appoint its president on a consensus basis. While private-media concentration is rising, 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. Judicial appointments have been hampered by political polarization and the presence of a caretaker government. Corruption levels have declined since the real-estate bubble burst, and a new set of anti-corruption laws has been passed.



Executive Capacity

Hampered by political uncertainty and the aftereffects of crisis, Spain receives a middling overall score (rank 20) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

While sustainable policymaking remains of interest, and central strategic-planning units have been strengthened, reform momentum declined under the interim government. 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 recently passed law promises to improve the RIA process, but legislative activity was minimal in 2016. Sustainability provisions remain under development. As the recovery has taken hold, the government has deepened consultations with unions and employers’ groups. Public communication has improved in recent years.

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. No serious organizational reform has taken place in recent years.

Executive Accountability

Despite some bright spots, Spain receives a middling overall score (rank 21) in the area of executive accountability. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have limited resources, but oversight powers are generally adequate. Under the caretaker government in 2016, ministers refused to respond to parliamentary summons. 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 pursuing varying internal-governance styles. Economic associations have become more sophisticated in recent years. Other civil-society organizations have less influence.
Back to Top