Policy Performance


Economic Policies

With echoes of the crisis remaining despite growth, Spain falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 28) with regard to its economic policies. Its score in this area has improved by 1.4 points since 2014.

Growth has been steady and robust for several years, led by strong private consumption, equipment investment and exports. However, average household income remains below its pre-crisis level. Austerity policies have been relaxed further, but both the deficit and debt remain unsustainably high.

Unemployment rates are decreasing but remain very high, reaching 15% in 2017. Most jobs created have been unstable and of inferior quality. The labor market continues to lack flexibility, with a high share of undeclared work and a dual labor market that particularly affects young and low-skilled workers.

Tax collection is low by EU standards. The new social-democratic government planned to increase income-tax rates, change corporate-tax structures, and impose a new banking and financial services tax, among other changes. Borrowing costs have continued to fall. R&D funding levels are low, but the government has expressed an intention to raise them to pre-crisis levels.

Social Policies

With the constraints of austerity abating, Spain falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 15) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure has increased by 0.7 points since 2014.

Education outcomes are mediocre due in part to out-of-date curriculum, teaching-quality concerns and overall low funding. Austerity-period cuts are being reversed, and the government has plans to provide universal access to preschool education. Social exclusion rates are falling, but child-poverty rates are a serious concern. The share of employed people living under the poverty threshold is also very high.

The high-quality health care system is quite decentralized. Austerity-era measures excluding migrants from coverage have been reversed. Family policy is underdeveloped, with traditional gender roles persisting. Women’s workplace pay gap is large. Policymakers are beginning to address the issue of gender-based violence.

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. An increase in irregular migration in 2018 has pushed some regions beyond existing infrastructure capacity.

Environmental Policies

Reversing a trend of comparative inattention, Spain falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 17) with regard to environmental policy. Its score on this measure has improved by 1.1 point since 2014.

Government policy in recent years has not focused on environmental sustainability. The new Sanchez government has combined environmental and energy policies into a single ministry. Previous climate goals appear unattainable under current legislation and tools. However, a new climate-change law setting new emissions targets, and promoting renewables, has been under discussion.

Coal-fired electricity plants have been closing. The new government is not blocking the decommissioning of such plants, reversing its predecessor’s policy. Air quality is a serious problem in the large cities, but municipal governments are addressing the issue.

The country is committed to existing multilateral environmental regimes, and is a member of the Carbon Neutrality Coalition, in which states vow to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. The government has supported the construction of wind farms in developing countries.



Quality of Democracy

With mixed strengths and weaknesses, Spain falls into the middle ranks (rank 18) with respect to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

During the review period, corruption charges led to the fall of the PP government led by Prime Minister Rajoy, and the echoes of Catalonia’s independence bid roiled Spanish politics. Several candidates in the 2017 Catalonian elections were either in prison or had fled the country, and the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that several deputies would be prosecuted for rebellion.

Parties receive public and private funding. Members of the Audit Office overseeing spending are appointed by the parties themselves. While civil rights and political liberties are generally respected. Anti-discrimination laws are strong, and explicit discrimination is rare, though informal prejudice persists.

Parliamentary fragmentation has made it difficult to select a new public-media president. The judicial system is strong and generally independent, but slow, and sometimes shows conservative bias. All political parties now have anti-corruption policies, and have signed transparency commitments.



Executive Capacity

Despite the succession of relatively weak governments during the review period, Spain falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 15) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

The political instability of both minority governments in power during the review period undermined strategic planning capacities. The incoming PSOE government increased the number of expert advisors. The powerful prime minister’s office consults closely with line ministries on high-profile policy development. High-level coordination is more effective than mid-level interdepartmental interaction.

RIA quality is mixed, but a recently passed measure may help focus and improve analyses. The Rajoy government deepened consultations with economic groups as the recovery gained strength, and the Sanchez expanded contacts with societal actors further. The Rajoy government’s communication on the Catalonia crisis in particular was weak, but Sanchez’ communications practices improved,

Recent governments’ minority status has made it difficult to pass and implement policies, especially the annual budget. Powerful economic groups have been able to block the passage of regulatory legislation. Prime Minister Sanchez has played a larger role than his predecessor in seeking a common European migration policy.

Executive Accountability

Despite some bright spots, Spain receives a middling overall score (rank 23) 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 audit office’s party-influenced appointments process hampers its independence, while the ombuds office has been filled by an acting officeholder since 2017, as parties have been unable to agree on a consensus candidate. The data-protection agency is effective, and independent of the public administration.

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. Both of the largest parties now select leaders through a primary system. Economic associations have become more sophisticated in recent years. Other civil-society organizations have less influence.
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