Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Despite a return to growth, Spain receives low rankings in international comparison (rank 30) for its economic policies. Its score in this area has improved by 1.3 points since 2014.

Growth has been steady and robust for several years, led by exports and domestic demand, and supported by oil-price declines and strong tourism. However, per household income remains below 2008 levels.

Unemployment rates are decreasing but remain very high, at 16.5% in 2017. Rates are particularly worrying among the young and low-skilled workers. Most jobs created have been unstable and of inferior quality. Tax collection is low by EU standards. Recent personal-income tax cuts were deemed compatible with deficit reduction, as they provided economic stimulus.

Austerity policies have been somewhat relaxed, but both the deficit and debt remain unsustainably high. Borrowing costs have been reduced. R&D funding levels are low, but a core innovative strength remains. Despite weaknesses, the country participates actively in international financial forums.

Social Policies

With safety nets still 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 0.3 points since 2014.

Education outcomes are mediocre due in part to out-of-date curriculum, teaching-quality concerns and overall low funding. 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 and women’s employment rate low. Women’s workplace pay gap is large. A tax credit for large families has been implemented, though assessments found it did not substantially improve conditions for children.

Though it largely prevents retiree poverty, the pension system is increasingly viewed as unsustainable. Despite little official government action in this area, immigrants’ integration is facilitated by broad societal tolerance. The government supported the EU refugee quota system, but accepted only a small number of asylum seekers in 2017.

Environmental Policies

Showing considerable recent gains, Spain falls into the middle of the pack (rank 20) with regard to environmental policy. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.9 points since 2014.

Greenhouse-gas emissions have declined since 2008, but the government has aggressively rolled back economic incentives for renewable energy development. A climate-change plan was being developed in 2017. Air quality is a serious problem in the large cities, but municipal governments are addressing the issue.

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 until 2017.



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 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Electoral laws are fair and flexible. However, the central government’s refusal to consult with the Catalonian population regarding its constitutional relationship with Spain generated a major political crisis. A recently implemented political-party-funding law imposes spending thresholds and contribution limits. 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, the failure to address the Catalonian crisis politically has been interpreted by some as an abusive interpretation of the rule of law. Anti-discrimination laws are strong, though informal prejudice persists.

The judicial system is strong and generally independent, but slow, and sometimes shows conservative bias. A new set of corruption cases drew increasingly close to the governing party during the review period, dealing with issues of illegal donations, conflict of interest and personal enrichment by officeholders.



Executive Capacity

With a government distracted by political tensions, Spain receives a middling overall score (rank 19) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

The political instability of the minority government in power since 2016 undermined its strategic-planning capabilities. 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.

RIA quality is mixed, but a newly passed measure may help focus and improve analyses. The Rajoy government deepened consultations with unions and employers’ groups as the recovery gained strength. The government’s communication on the Catalonia crisis in particular lacked a thoughtful underlying strategy.

The minority government’s lack of political support, along with interparty competition on the center-right, undermined legislative efficiency. However, the Senate granted Rajoy unprecedented powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia. That region’s bid for independence partly stemmed from social unrest related to the taxes collected there.

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 its 2014 level.

Parliamentarians have limited resources, but oversight powers are generally adequate. The power of summoning ministers was frequently exercised in 2017. The audit office’s party-influenced appointments process hampers its independence, while the ombuds office was filled by only an acting officeholder during the review period, as parties could not agree on a consensus candidate.

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.
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