New rich / new poor

Next week's state-of-the-union debate needs to address disparities in economic growth and public trust to create agreements and resolutions

Next week the state-of-the-nation debate will be held in Congress. Seldom has such a debate been justified by such an exceptional national situation. The prime minister's first duty ought to be to explain to the public, for once and for all, why the nation has fallen from "new rich" to "new poor" in the short space of five years. This is not entirely, or even principally, the fault of his Popular Party (though under the government of this party we have seen a brutal acceleration of the most negative trends), because the roots go back to the actions of the last Zapatero government, especially after May 2010.

A public understanding of the situation is an essential condition for an inter-party pact of regeneration, or whatever you want to call it. A pact that will have to last longer than one legislature (for the crisis is deep, and will be long) so that the matter of consensus can have continuity whoever is in power; and a pact that will have to reach through all levels of government - national, regional and local.

If the Germans and the French were capable of reaching agreement on the germ of the EU only a few years after being at each other's throats on the battlefield, it should not be so unimaginable for the bosses of Spanish politics to sit down and hammer out an agreement.

We must determine what factors have brought us from playing in the top league, close behind France and Italy in per capita income, to now be vying with Greece in the championship of unemployment (particularly among young people), almost overnight from new rich to new poor, with the empirical conviction that we are headed further down, and for a long time.

At the same time, we must not lose our sense of proportion about these problems, so as not to fall into melancholy or exaggeration. Or, as Muñoz Molina puts it in his recent book Todo lo que era sólido (or, Everything that was solid), we are now "poor relatives, down-at-heel in a club of very rich people. Much less poor, however, than a vast majority of humanity; much less poor than our grandparents were, or even our parents."

This is the economic backdrop of the state of the nation, which cannot distract us from the country's other problems: the directly political ones (including the rampant corruption and the public distrust of politicians), and the institutional ones (the system of regional government, and the fact that many of the institutional structures we set up after Franco's death, so that we could coexist with each other, are now obsolete or just don't work).

And all this, in a European context that not only doesn't help, but actually aggravates our disaffection: because everything that is coming from the EU is about cutbacks and sacrifices (see the ridiculous Multiannual Financial Perspectives approved last Friday in the European Council, which confirm a forecast of austerity until the end of this decade, and assume an EU budget 20 times smaller than that of federal countries such as the US), and because all the institutional reforms now underway in Brussels are focused on limiting the maneuvering room of governments, and on cessions of sovereignty to... well, no one knows to whom. Not even the European Parliament, the most democratically elected of EU institutions (elections are coming up next year) is free of these propensities, though it now has an unparalleled chance to show its worth by vetoing these too restrictive budgets.

With this backdrop, our Congress is to be visited today by Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, who will speak to the deputies behind closed doors. Yet another symptom of the obscurantism which leads so many to doubt the public's capacity to ever conquer a greater degree of control of economic policy - which is part of what defines a democracy.