June 17, 2016
A week before the United Kingdom votes whether to stay in the EU or leave, the debate has been very subdued in Spain until now. It was practically not until this week that the media and the public opinion have started analyzing the pros and cons of staying in the EU and what consequences the final outcome may have for Spain.
(Un)surprisingly enough, the EU has not been a central part of the debate in the upcoming general elections which will take place in Spain on 26th June. Politicians seem to have caught the whiff of indifference that Spaniards have been displaying towards the EU and must have decided it was wiser not to bring up the topic. In the historic and first electoral debate between the four candidates that took place last Monday on TV, the issue of Brexit was barely mentioned in the brief timeslot of 10 minutes allocated to foreign affairs out of a full 2 hours debate. Only Podemos has officially included the topic in the pre-electoral campaign, by sending its secretary of international relations to the UK for three days earlier this month, to advocate for the permanence of the country in the EU and support the Another Europe is Possible campaign. The fact is, the state of affairs in Venezuela stirred up much more interest amongst the four main parties as they entered into pre-electoral mode, and Ciudadanos’ Albert Rivera actually visited the country recently to express his support for Maduro’s opposition.
After all, Spain has shown waning interest for the state of the EU in the last years: participation in the European elections has been decreasing steadily; in 2014, 43,81% of voters turned up at the polling stations, down from 44,87% in 2009 and higher figures of 50-60% participation rate in the 80’s and 90’s. In 2005, the referendum on the European Constitution, while it was approved by Spaniards, only had 42% of the voters involved, which was the lowest participation rate to the date in the country’s democratic tradition.
Whilst the country has been spared so far the uprising of an extremist political party that advocates for the exit of the EU and the recovery of full national sovereignty, the romance between Spain and the club it felt so privileged to be in for the first 20-25 years since its entry in 1986, seems to be fading. This recent disaffection has no doubt been triggered by the economic crisis and the austerity measures imposed on Spain, and further developed for some as the EU has failed to address the refugee crisis.
But back to Brexit. Politicians in general and the acting government in particular are wrong to not make more out of the case. After all, the potential consequences for Spain are enormous: analysts have shown that economically, Spain could become a net contributor to the EU –versus its current status as net recipient- due to the gap left by the UK’s economic contribution; plus some of the biggest national companies (Banco Santander, Inditex) have vast parts of their business in the country and would undoubtedly be affected by its financial turbulences in the short-term and by long-term implications; and the 15,5 million British tourists who visited Spain in 2015 would be affected by the pound depreciation and would either visit less or spend less. Not to speak of the approximately 300,000 British citizens who live in Spain permanently and whose change of status with regards to the EU would impact their daily lives.
And politically the effects are even wider. If the polls are confirmed and the leave option prevails, Scotland could hold a second referendum on its attachment to the UK. In the hypothetical event that it would secede from the UK as a country no longer in the EU and demand accession to the Union, it would be a first in the history of European integration and could set a dangerous precedent that would fuel Catalan independence from Spain and its will to remain in the EU.
Some say the outcome of the referendum might even affect the results of the Spanish elections and that a victory of Brexit would benefit the current acting government, the conservative Popular Party, as Spanish voters would cling to stability.
Globally, though, the largest impact is symbolic. As political scientist Salvador Llaudes argues, Spain’s recent history and its democratic transition and economic and social development have come hand in hand and have benefited enormously from its integration in the European project. The risk that the exit of the UK poses to the core of the EU and its stability means that Spain will most surely be shaken up by such a tsunami, which could amongst other things affect its economic growth forecasts. The hit that the companies listed on the Spanish stock exchange IBEX have experienced this past week, with losses worth EUR 37,600 million (a 7,33%) in three days, is a good example.
That is why the government that is formed in Spain after the elections of 26th June should make it a priority to join in the efforts to boost the European project, to advocate for a stronger Europe and to tackle head on its mounting problems. The secretary of State for the EU has already asked the representatives of foreign affairs of the other political parties to meet next week ahead of the EU Council on 28-29 June in order to reach a common position on the results of the referendum; that seems like a correct step.Author : Elena Ortiz de Solórzano