The competence of social interest groups, environmental groups and religious communities is somewhat limited in Spain. Despite some characterization of Spain as a corporatist regime with a complex civil society, the truth is that interest associations (economic and noneconomic) are relatively weak, and are not generally able to overcome the majoritarian style of governance or the autonomy of state actors in establishing policy priorities and controlling decision-making processes.
Apart from the unions and the business interests’ associations (see Association Competence), not many social groups have the will or the capacity to invest resources in producing “reasonable” policy proposals. For example, women’s associations are remarkably weak; the organizations representing immigrant workers or the minority religious communities are still very young; and even more surprisingly, the supposedly powerful Catholic Church has no research unit or think tank capable of technically supporting its discourse in policy areas such as education, family or moral issues.
Representing exceptions to this rule are the leading environmental groups (e.g., Ecologistas en Acción, Greenpeace España, WWF/Adena, etc.) and some NGOs devoted to human rights or international development (Amnistía Internacional, Intermón-Oxfam, etc.), which rely increasingly on academic expertise. As is evident, many are in fact local divisions of international associations. These groups tend to influence policy-making through publicity and political pressure, but their policy recommendations are often based on research undertaken by their own expert staff. They also organize technical seminars and issue publications aimed at shaping the public opinion. Their policy suggestions are sometimes taken into consideration by the government, although many of their proposals are not politically feasible because of their understandable impracticality.
Finally, the promotion during the last years of government consultative committees in policy sectors such as education, international development, environment, migration and more, in which broad social interests have to be represented, is fostering the creation and strengthening of nonprofit associations focused on specific policy areas, with a national perspective that may generate substantive policy know-how in the future. In some cases, trade unions are the societal groups that perform this task.
Encarnación, Omar. 2008. “The Dark Side of Success? A Civil Society Deficit” In Spanish Politics. Cambridge, Polity Press.