Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

With political tensions hampering budgetary policy, Spain scores relatively poorly (rank 33) with regard to economic policies. Its score in this area has improved by 1.2 points since 2014.

The steady and robust growth of the past few years has slowed somewhat to an annual rate of 1.9%. Economic growth continues to be driven by strong private consumption, equipment investment and exports. The tourism sector, which is crucial for the economy and employment, has declined slightly for several years.

Unemployment rates are decreasing but remain very high, reaching 14.1% in 2019. The high degree of labor market segmentation between temporary and open-ended contracts impedes labor productivity growth. Job-creation figures during 2019 were the weakest since the summer of 2014.

Tax collection is low by EU standards. The parliament’s failure to approve the 2019 budget bill resulted in the extension of the 2018 budget, without any new tax measures. The deficit shrank to 2.3% of GDP; consequently European Council closed the excessive deficit procedure for Spain. Government debt remains high at nearly 96% of GDP. R&D funding levels are low.

Social Policies

With the constraints of austerity abating, Spain falls into the upper-middle ranks internationally (rank 17) 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Education outcomes are mediocre due in part to out-of-date curriculum, teaching-quality concerns and overall low funding.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 healthcare system is quite decentralized, with the public insurance system covering 99% of the population. 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. The caretaker PSOE government adopted tougher measures pushing back migrants, but Spain is no longer the main Mediterranean route for undocumented migrants.

Environmental Policies

Reversing a comparatively unambitious trend, Spain falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 13) with regard to environmental policy. Its score on this measure has improved by 1.6 points since 2014.

A new Strategic Energy and Climate Framework has clarified the county’s climate-change strategy. The plan aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Emissions are to be reduced by between 20% and 21% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, with the share of renewables in total energy consumed boosted to 42%. A total of 74% of electricity is to be generated by renewables.

The country’s largest energy company will close all coal-fired plants by June 2020, and is planning to build Europe’s largest solar-power plant in Spain. However, air quality remains a significant problem in the larger cities, with the European Commission threatening disciplinary action if tougher measures are not imposed.

The country is committed to existing multilateral environmental regimes, and hosted the COP 25 event in 2019 after it was moved from Chile. The state’s record on the protection of natural resources and biodiversity is mixed.

Robust Democracy


Quality of Democracy

With political deadlock following a period of scandal and attempted secession, Spain falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 16) with respect to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

The Supreme Court found nine Catalan separatist leaders guilty of sedition, sentencing them to between nine and 13 years in prison. They will be unable to hold public office for varying periods of time. The large population of expatriates has difficulties voting due to complicated procedures. The media market is dominated by just three media groups, and concern over false information is rising.

Parties receive public and private funding. Members of the Audit Office overseeing spending are appointed by the parties themselves. Civil rights and political liberties are generally respected. Anti-discrimination laws are strong, and explicit discrimination is rare, through the rise of the Vox populist movement has led to stronger rhetoric on immigration and minority group issues.

The judicial system is strong and generally independent, but often slow. The trial of the Catalan leaders and decisions relating to major corruption scandals demonstrated courts’ ability to act as effective monitors of public events. A number of new measures increasing transparency in public procurement have been put into place in recent years.

Good Governance


Executive Capacity

With the government weakened by its caretaker status, Spain falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 15) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

The government’s caretaker status through much of the review period left it little independent room for strategy or policy development. Ordinarily, 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.

RIAs are required for all new regulations, with quality improving over time. Ex post evaluations are compulsory, but the system is in its early stages. The PSOE minority government has increased contacts with societal actors, but also made use of decree-law powers. The government has launched a more thoughtful national and international political communications strategy.

The caretaker status of the government limited line ministries’ ability to act in their own sectoral self-interest. The governing party’s parliamentary weakness has made it difficult to implement strategic objectives, including pass the annual budget. Autonomous communities are seeking a thorough revision of the general funding system, but political deadlock has delayed reforms.

Executive Accountability

Despite some bright spots, Spain receives a middling overall score (rank 22) in the area of executive accountability. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.1 point 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.

Levels of political knowledge are generally low, but Spanish citizens say they are increasingly concerned about the country’s political deadlock. The main print periodicals provide a significant amount of in-depth policy analysis. Most citizens watch TV news, where much of the political information comes from talk shows.

The party landscape has expanded dramatically, with parties pursuing varying internal-governance styles. Economic associations have become more sophisticated in recent years, but other civil-society organizations have less influence.
Back to Top