Spanish Devolution


The Economist describes the decentralization of Spain:

The hardest problem for the authors of Spain's democratic constitution was to strike a balance between the central government and the claims of Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia for home rule. The formula they came up with was known as café para todos, or coffee for all: Spain was divided into 17 "autonomous communities" (plus the enclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast), each with its own elected parliament and government. This estado de las autonomías seemed a neat solution. Over the past 30 years more and more powers and money have been devolved. The regional governments are now responsible for schools, universities, health, social services, culture, urban and rural development and, in some places, policing….

The estado de las autonomías has several clear benefits. First, as Mr Zapatero says, "it spreads power and impedes its concentration," and in that way reflects "the best liberal thinking". Second, by bringing decisions about services closer to the people it has improved them. Third, it encourages competition between regions. The rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid may have acquired an edge of mistrust, but it is in essence a creative tension. And fourth, the system has reduced regional inequalities, or at least stopped them widening.

The same article says that "even as it has solved some problems, decentralisation has created others." I can't say those new problems strike me as terrible obstacles. Here's a sample:

Now that the government employment service has been decentralised, José María Fidalgo, the general secretary of the Workers' Commissions, the largest trade-union federation, worries that jobseekers have to look at 17 different websites.

[Hat tip: Paul Rako]

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  1. Is it too late for Estados Unidos de las autonom?as?

  2. The Catalans make a lot of noise about “nations” and shit but they are pretty satisfied with what they have now; and they are justified in expecting to get back from Madrid what they put in. Their main concern was having a fair amount of autonomy because of how hard Franco fucked them before and never letting that happen again.

    They’ve pretty much reached that point, and the Catalan nationalists are allowed to do their fire and brimstone stuff while Catalans nod approvingly, but it’s all talk. The Catalan nationalists have never been violent and the general Catalan population would never support violence to that end anyway. They used to nominally support Basque separatism until the moronic thugs in ETA bombed Barcelona in ’87.

    It’s possible that a slow devolution could, in the long term, result in a newly formed Aragon, but the desire to do it right now is completely lacking.

  3. So when can we get some of that back over here?

  4. Freedom is on the march!

    P.S. Thanks to Reason for keeping an eye on happenings in Spain for us.

  5. ?Somos Nosotros Devo!

  6. of course, what’s the role of Brussels in making this easier?
    (is Brussels providing certain things that made this step possible? could be for better, could be for worse – just something to think about: is there a net loss of gov’t, zero, or what?)

  7. P.S. Thanks to Reason for keeping an eye on happenings in Spain for us.

    That’s the one in Europe. Are you thinking of the one to the south where they speak a similar language?

  8. Hey, stranger things have happened.

    I wonder if Spain’s win in the European Nations Cup soccer tournament will make the independence-minded regions think better of a united Spain.


  9. I think I know where Spain is! In fact, I’ve read WashingtonIrving’s tales from that country, and I can whistle the ManOfLaMancha theme.

    What I was getting at is that it’s rare to find a comprehensive source for in-depth, country-specific information, and I’m glad that Reason has rushed in to fill that gap. My only concern: do they have a newsletter I could subscribe to in order to get the information even quicker? Could this “actionable intelligence” be delivered straight to my inbox?

    In summation: good job. Very good job.

  10. I have a soft spot for unusual “minority” languages… possessing a linguistics degree will do that to you. So naturally I like to see peaceful expressions of nationalism like you see in Catalunya. Spending a couple months lounging on their beautiful beaches in high school as an exchange student left a favorable impression too 🙂

  11. Huh. So distributed power and more local control lead to better representation, better services and happier people. I wonder why America never thought to try this kind of system.

  12. Thankfully there have been some positive aspects, like tax competition between regions… however most of the competition has been a race to the bottom of who can spend the most and appoint more regional civil servants.

    In Andalusia 85% of the regional budget is spent on salaries…

    Still, one can hope that at some point we’ll start seeing a race to the top…

  13. If you want to see true decentralisation in Europe, the Swiss confederation is a far better model than Spain’s autonomias or Germany’s L?nder…

    Swiss tax competition is specially worthy of note

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