Three long years have passed since the current administration found itself in power as if by magic, buoyed up by an extremely hard crisis and by the obvious destructiveness, incompetence and sheer banality of the former (yet nevertheless reelected) socialist government. Those general elections, together with the preceding regional elections, gave the current incumbents an enormous power and a unique opportunity to change Spain. However, they had already made up their minds to change nothing but the tax rates, and then only to increase them over and over again. The country needed a dramatic change of course, but they decided to float aimlessly with the current. This is the pitiful story of what this government could have been but was not.
The government could have acknowledged that, after 35 years, the many weaknesses and mistakes of the rusty machinery of the 1978 Constitution had become too obvious. The system of political parties, with its opacities and corruption and with no internal democracy to speak of, and the total impunity with which the ruling class functioned (as opposed to the oppressive rules the normal citizen had to abide by) had exasperated the Spanish people. Moreover, the suffocating weight of the State and an out-of-control public expenditure had put our country on the brink of default.
The first step should have been to start the dismantling of the system of autonomous communities. These had been created out of thin air, without clearly stated competences, lacking fiscal responsibility and with too many similarities to independent countries, thereby stimulating our tiresome and repetitive regional nationalisms. In addition, they had ended becoming squanderers and the source of corruption, the latter encouraged by a low political turnover, which evidenced a low quality of democracy, both in left and right leaning regions: in Andalusia the Socialist Party had been in power for 30 years in a row, very much the same had happened in Extremadura (28 years) and Castilla La-Mancha (29 years), whereas the Popular Party had ruled Castilla León continuously for 26 years and Madrid for 18; not to mention the most nationalist regions Catalonia and the Basque Country, where the two nationalist parties had ruled for 25 and 33 years, respectively. The autonomous regions had also been famous for multiplying by four the number of government workers in Spain and for creating a gigantic bureaucratic machinery, which churned out thousands of new rules and regulations completely unrelated to each other and sometimes even opposed to each other. All in all, they had turned a single market into a disorderly puzzle of ridiculous microcosms. The new government could have acknowledged this reality and changed it, but decided that it was too much work, or maybe that the party’s interests were more important than those of the country.
It should also have reformed the deeply wounded judiciary, openly and unashamedly shaken, infiltrated and denaturalized by all political parties for the last thirty years, clearly inefficient and dishearteningly slow. Of course, the very beginning (a very good place to start) would have been an emphatic separation of powers, making sure the Constitutional and Supreme Courts were to be chosen by the judges themselves, rather than by politicians, through the use of objective criteria – such as a determined CV and minimum age – and long terms, so as to make their independence possible. However, the government preferred to keep its own power quota unchanged, therefore it kept at hand its passport to impunity.
Also, the government should have ended with the opacity of the public sector, making it subject to at least the same level of scrutiny as the private one. Political parties, unions, business associations and other State-owned entities would have been obliged to audit their accounts by an independent audit company six months after year end, changing the current status quo, by which they are vaguely supervised with a five year delay by a starved Public Account’s Court, deliberately kept underfunded and impotent.
The new government could also have created a Ministry of Deregulation, Rule of Law and Free Competition with the goal of simplifying the labyrinthine Spanish legislation and giving back to the citizenry the freedom of which all those endless, ruthless and futile rules had robbed them. It should have understood that exercising power doesn’t mean creating new laws all the time, and that constantly changing the law only provokes confusion, mistrust and paralysis. The reduction of the countless licenses and permits demanded to pursue the most trivial activities would have allowed the entrepreneurial spirit, the only true creator of wealth, to take hold and flourish. In the same vein, it should have encouraged free competition in all those sectors where what now counts is to be protected by a permit, a decree or a buddy in the right place. However, it decided we should keep on depending on the permit, the decree or the buddy in the right place, that is, on them.
And let’s not forget the corruption that besieges our country, which has increasingly raised the hurdle for people’s amazement, even though we are already familiar with all kinds of outrages, which at the same time has destroyed the reputation of the political class. However, with a beam in their own eyes, it’s dangerously possible that it might have brought about some self-injury, so why take the risk!
Understanding that the buildup of deficits and public debt had put Spain at the edge of the default cliff and had also broken the solidarity between generations, the government should have set a constitutional ceiling to both deficit and debt. Avoiding deficits in the public accounts is easy: it’s enough to state that in such a case all members of parliament would not be eligible for reelection in the following term. Isn’t it beautiful and easy? On the contrary, the constitutional change that the government chose to pass with great fanfare determined shamelessly that the ceiling could be surpassed, in cases of recession or emergency situations, as judged by the majority of MPs.
At the same time, the government should have lowered tax rates in a meaningful way alongside reducing public spending, trusting that the space left by the inefficient burden of the State would be occupied by the private sector, working wonders. However, its socialist ideology and its interventionist DNA blinded it.
It should also have turned our outdated labor legislation inside out, ruthlessly cutting its chronic rigidity, getting rid of all its straitjackets and of the insane influence of unions and business associations. Is it that difficult to comprehend that, the businessman being always the first mover of any hiring, it is he who has to be motivated? ¿That making firing difficult makes hiring just as difficult? Yet, the only thing they did was to pass one of their typically good-looking but content-empty mini reforms, which usually pretended to make the purr of a kitten sound like the roar of a male lion on heat.
Lastly, this government should have eliminated the experiments in social engineering performed by former president Zapatero, including the legislation on abortion, arguably the most relevant moral issue of our times. Instead, it rather favoured those social experiments, making permanent what should have been an unfortunate parenthesis, and reneging, along the way, on yet another electoral promise.
Believe me: Spain didn’t need an indolent, inertial, bureaucratic government, begging to be left alone in order to enjoy power without any stress or annoyance, calling prudence what is really a pathological inability to take decisions. No. What Spain did need was a daring, courageous, determined, game changer government. Neither did it need a government which would break all its promises, but one which would return the faith in the course of the country, an example of seriousness, commitment and respect for the word given. After two terrible administrations, Spain could not afford a government which frustrated so many hopes, lost so much time so miserably and spoiled such an opportunity to make a change for the better. Now, that opportunity is gone. What a disgrace.