SOS Spain: It’s the transition’s fault!

On top of the never-ending financial crisis, we now have a political crisis. The Bárcenas (ex-treasurer of the governing Partido Popular (PP)) and Ana Mato (Minister for Health) corruption scandals have turned into sagas, and the government has gone into deny-everything (or nearly everything–salvo una cosa!) and-hope-it-goes-away mode. These scandals, though, are probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Corruption cases in Valencia, Catalonia, Galicia, Majorca, Castellón and Andalusia, just to name those that come to mind, suggest that corruption is rife. And all levels of government are afflicted, from local councils to regional and national governments and even the royals.

Of course, the cause of the current political crisis, corruption, may also have played an important role in causing Spain’s economic woes, or at least worsening them.

A study from the PSPV (the Valencian branch of the national socialist party, the PSOE, in opposition in Valencia since the dawn of time) estimates that corruption cost Valencia € 1,184 m in three years. A high price, indeed, although probably way short of the total cost of being governed by the inept who come to power because of who rather than what they know and who make decisions in benefit of those who got them there, i.e., their family, friends and party connections, and, in some cases, those who will look after them when they leave politics (judging by the amount of ex-politicians with nice jobs in important Spanish companies).

Somewhere after those interests, and when their ineptness doesn’t negate any positive effects, they may get around to serving the people who voted for the party they represent, the party whose list they managed to get themselves on. Remember, politicians in Spain don’t have to appeal to voters to get voted in; they need to appeal to their parties to get as high as possible on the party lists.

In a nutshell, the country is crippled by systemic ineptness and mediocrity, which was more or less César Molinas’s point on an episode of the highly recommendable show Singulars (on TV3) aired a couple of weeks ago. When Singulars host and interviewer Jaume Barberà asked why Spain had such a bad bunch of politicians compared to other places, implying—I thought, anyway—cultural reasons, Molinas replied that the blame lies with the ineffective and insufficient laws governing political parties.

In comparison to other places (Germany and the UK were the examples given), Spain has far fewer regulations and party conventions on how political parties should operate. Spanish political parties are a law unto themselves and undemocratic. Which, apparently, was what was required during the transition: big, strong, authoritarian parties capable of grinding out compromises and suppressing party factions.

But there’s hope. A system can be changed, particularly one that’s not even 40 years old. And this panorama beats the one you get when you start trotting out cultural excuses. Statements like, “That’s just the way it is”, or, “It’s a cultural thing”, are lazy resignation, false and not very useful. A country’s culture colours everything, but it’s not the whole or even the defining thing. You’ve got to have a real go at fixing a problem, and explore all the options available, before you can call it inherent and unfixable.

The catch, of course, is that the law making process is controlled by the political parties. They have to be convinced of the need to create laws that reduce their power. However, while politicians have done next to nothing to date (although they always come up with good ideas while in opposition), maybe the urgency and seriousness of the current crises and the popular reaction to them will spark change. Maybe one day we will even see Spanish politicians resigning, which, in Spain at least, would generate even more surprise than the Pope’s announcement to call it a day.

Written by Rob Lunn

Rob Lunn is a freelance translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English and specialises in legal translation.

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