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Politics vs. state

It was not the work of civil servants which unbalanced the nation’s budget

The politicians are off for their vacations; and perhaps the state, too, could do with a rest. In recent years the welfare state in Spain, which seemed a signal historic achievement of the latter part of 20th century, has been headed for dismantling and liquidation. It is not just the markets that have compassed this, but also politics, or the politicians.

The state is now merely the administration of public resources, however much some voices still speak the language of sovereignty of the people and historic mission. The state has no mission other than to guarantee the citizen's individual, civic and social rights. And the political system, no function other than to equip the state with the means necessary to make this guarantee effective. Liberty, security, education, health, public services, administration of justice: these sum up the state.

To repeat this commonplace, at this stage, would be pointless, were it not that the first moves the present government has made to break the vicious circle of the economic slump have been in the direction of liquidating the state, mounting a general offensive against the public administration -- as if the numbers and salaries of the civil service were the root of the crisis. Reductions in public jobs and salary cuts across the board have been the measures taken (rather than prosecution of the tax evasion endemic in Spain) to balance a budget, the unbalancing of which has not precisely been due to the civil servants, whose salaries often do not amount to 2,000 euros.

It is disappointing that the Catalan premier sees the markets' distrust of Spain as Catalonia's big chance to reaffirm its independence"

It will be impossible for the state to go on performing its legitimate functions if this offensive against those who make it work is not stopped and rolled back.

It must be repeated: the Spanish state is not oversized in the services it provides, nor in the personnel it employs; nor is the political attack on the state going to get us out of the crisis. What it will in fact achieve will be a deterioration in the public sector, in human quality and in services, that will take decades to repair. The structure built in the late 20th century will be the ruin of the 21st.

That same state might also hold up, as one of its achievements, a relatively stable equilibrium between the principles of individual liberty and regional autonomy -- both fundamental elements of our democratic system. And it is odd, and disappointing, that the Catalan premier has seen the international markets' general distrust of Spain as Catalonia's big chance to reaffirm itself as an independent nation.

Disappointing, because it echoes a nasty story that happened during the Civil War -- the whole world looking on not in distrust but in horror -- when Catalonia (in fact, its government) attempted a separate peace, offering its territory to the colonial tutelage of France and Britain.

Unfortunately, if our history in the last quarter of the 20th century can be narrated as an achievement in the construction of a democratic, decentralized and social-welfare state, the same cannot be said of our political class, which has wallowed in the old habits of particularism, clientelism and corruption that in the past brought down the same state.

The dismantling of public services in this offensive against the civil service, and the clamor of sauve qui peut heard in the Catalan parliament in this, the worst week (so far), of the interminable crisis, show the deficient loyalty to the state prevalent in a political class that looks only to its immediate interests.

And for icing on the cake, the justice minister can do no better than to affirm that a fetus with grave genetic malformations has a right to be born. And this is not just one politician's frontal attack on the state; it is a surrender to fanaticism and religious obscurantism -- the most devastating of our historic traditions -- which numbers among its achievements that of having prevented, for some two centuries, the construction of a democratic state in Spain.

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