Rebuilding the future

EL PAÍS puts forward 10 reforms and covenants to boost democracy and the economy in the midst of a deep political crisis

Spain's Congress, bereft of deputies.
Spain's Congress, bereft of deputies.EFE

Serious as Spain's ongoing economic crisis might be, with its dramatic six-million jobless figure and general downturn in quality of life, its importance pales compared with the political and institutional crisis facing the nation - made worse by growing suspicions regarding illegal party financing on the part of the ruling Popular Party (PP). This situation coincides in time with the end of a historic cycle and the dawn of a new era filled with uncertainty. Some of the issues on the table do not exclusively or even chiefly concern Spain; rather, they result from the impact of globalization and the difficulties many countries are facing in their efforts to adapt to the new rules of the global game. Concern over the future of the European Union and the single currency are among the imbalances that affect our national situation - a situation that calls for global, shared solutions that fall beyond the exclusive scope of Spain's political and social leaders, even if the latter have the duty to cooperate to overcome those circumstances. But we are also facing a set of problems that originated within our borders, adding fragility on top of fragility, and which require urgent, unavoidable solutions.

Most of the institutions emanating from the 1978 Constitution and the social system it created are clearly unable to rise to the challenges of the present, never mind those of the immediate future. The sacrifices forced upon citizens by austerity policies are feeding growing feelings of skepticism regarding our leaders' ability to respond to the demands of the people. Amid the accusations of corruption, the general discredit of the political class, the complaints about inefficiency and the protests over violations of rights that people thought themselves permanently entitled to, we find growing popular disaffection for a system that created the highest levels of wellbeing, democracy and freedom in the history of Spain. And this is all happening in the middle of a generational break defined by the difficulties young people have finding a job and the ease and virulence with which their justified discontent is expressed in the social media.

At times like these, faced with growing fragmentation at all levels, it becomes necessary to defend the continuity of democracy and of economic and social progress. We need to guarantee that the fundamental values that justified the democratic transition do not get lost in the current turbulence; we need to ensure that the new generations play a prominent role in the changing of the guard that must take place within the halls of power and in the development of a new society, as is their right and their duty, and we must also ensure that they keep in mind the lessons of the recent past and show regard for the experience and wisdom of their elders.

This veritable Second Transition - which is so unlike the sort of transition that the resuscitated ghosts of Spain's most backward sectors have been trying to press on us - must serve to dig deeper into our democratic values and prepare Spanish society for the challenges of the 21st century. To do so, this new transition must rest on specific, urgent reforms. Simply trusting that time will help solve our problems is a serious mistake. Time is working against us, and things can only get worse with a paralyzed government that citizens no longer trust, or with a repeat of the paralysis and indecisions that marked the beginning of this political term.

Spaniards rightly ask themselves what is to be done. The answer is not hard, although implementing the measures certainly will be. What follows is a decalogue of tasks that can and must help rescue the system born out of the Transition from the threats circling overhead. Naturally, these suggestions are debatable, but there should be no doubt as to the unequivocal nature of the underlying problems. If these are not tackled as soon as possible, citizen disaffection for the system will end up taking its toll.

1. Party Law

It must guarantee internal democracy and the transparency of political groups. It must impose a transparent financing system and implement efficient oversight of party accounts on an annual basis, with sanctions going as far as party dissolution if the rules are violated. The law can tie in with the regulations set forth in the draft Transparency Law, and should allow citizens to request documents relating to the inner workings of any party. Officials who have been indicted in legal procedures should be suspended from their party duties until their situation is cleared up.

2. Electoral Law

It is necessary to replace the current closed-list system with another one that lets citizens withhold their vote from specific candidates whom they find unworthy of their trust. There must be a reconsideration of the constitutional principle that sets the province as the electoral district; in the case of the Senate, the region must be the reference. The distribution of seats must encourage proportionality in such a way that each elected deputy represents a reasonably comparable number of voters. Campaign finance must be transparent and campaigns themselves shorter - their current duration is unnecessary in a society with so many varied means of communication. Clear, efficient criteria must be established to make proper use of the social media during electoral contests.

3. Administrative reform

The reform and modernization of public administration must eliminate the duplication of structures and tasks in order to adapt the state's size and expenses to today's society and to the characteristics of territorial organization in Spain and the European Union (EU). It is essential to reduce the number of existing municipalities, to use technocrats where necessary, to regulate mayors' salaries, to get independent agencies to oversee budgets, and to overhaul the public examination system that is the gateway to civil servant positions. The Basic Statute of the Public Worker must help professionalize upper management, and limit political appointments of high-ranking civil servants, reserving this option for cases when they genuinely need to be protected from interference. Contrary to what is happening now, adequate access to information on public management must be provided, making managers more accountable and facilitating critical judgment by others.

4. Status of the Crown

In order to establish the duties and responsibilities of the Crown, the Parliament must regulate how the Royal Family functions, guaranteeing absolute transparency of expenses - not just in relation to physical persons, but to the general operations of the Royal Household. Just like Party Law, there must be a link to the regulations set forth in the Transparency Law.

5. Covenant on jobs and pensions

The government, political parties, unions and business organizations must join together to hammer out a consensus to complete labor reform while correcting its shortcomings and imbalances. Now that the foundations for hiring and firing have been established, it is essential to encourage active job creation policies in a country with six million unemployed people. A program of direct subsidies (national and European) must be aimed at small and midsized businesses to encourage them to create jobs, especially for young people. This covenant must be supported by European funds in the framework of a euro-zone agreement. The aid currently budgeted by the EU is wholly insufficient to tackle the gravity of the problem.

It is necessary to deeply reform the pension system, factoring in longer life expectancy, among other changes. No one political party can unilaterally make this reform, no matter what kind of a parliamentary majority it enjoys. It is necessary to guarantee the sustainability of the system and improve the correlation between contributions and retirement checks.

6. Reform of the justice system

The judiciary is the only state power that did not become democratic during the Transition. As providers of a public service, judges must be better and more efficiently organized, and have access to greater resources and means. It is necessary to improve the coordination of the justice system, which currently has workers from up to five different judicial bodies, which in turn answer to central or regional authorities depending on the case. The notions of equality before the law, the right to effective protection from judges and the right to a fair trial are often reduced in practice to mere statements of purpose, since the courts never work speedily and nor are they always efficient, which means the number of judges must be significantly increased. Procedural rules must be reassessed to ensure basic guarantees are maintained while achieving speedier trials and adequately protecting the presumption of innocence from the so-called "television convictions." The government must also drop its current policy that slaps legal fees on common court procedures.

7. Covenant on education

General education policies and school curriculums cannot be modified every time a new party reaches power. The future of advanced economies rests on strategies of education, training of human capital and research. We need to create the foundations to guarantee this goal and to establish criteria to manage resources, establish incentives and introduce oversight, regardless of the political tendencies of the party in power. Private education centers that benefit from public subsidies (colegios concertados) must guarantee equal opportunities and refrain from discriminatory practices based on gender or religion. Public evaluations of schools must be developed in such a way that the results will affect the careers of school managers.

8. Covenant on public health

It is necessary to preserve and improve the public healthcare system to maintain the high levels of service that we have built up over the years, and which made the Spanish model, no matter what its shortcomings, something worth supporting and perfecting. The state must guarantee universal health coverage, and correct the mistakes detected at the time of handing management over to regional governments. It is necessary to supervise the results of public management and oversee that agreements with partner companies are honored, eliminating the possibility of public investments that exclusively benefit private managers. Such a program will require great consensus among the political parties.

9. A federal state

The Spanish "state of the autonomies" must be converted into a typically federal model that establishes a closed, specific list of the central government's powers and attributions, while allowing the federated states to develop their own capacity for self-rule without outside interference, on the basis of the principles of joint responsibility and efficiency. This reform entails overhauling the regional financing system, revising the way power is devolved to the regions and addressing the regional governments' fiscal responsibility deficit. Many constitutional scholars feel that this transformation, which would afford nationalism a new space, is not that difficult to bring about if there is a genuine political will to undertake it.

10. Reform of the Constitution

This program to take back our political life requires a reform of the 1978 Constitution on many fronts. The reform itself is not the goal, but simply a tool to deal with the new realities. Contrary to what many people think - out of fear that initiating such a process will only add more chaos to an already confused situation - the best way to start putting some order into the current mess is to adapt our Carta Magna to the times - present and future - by streamlining its wording, divesting it of its ties to the past, and incorporating issues dealing with the new global, digital society that did not exist when it was first drafted. This reform must be effected through legally established procedures, and headed by a congressional committee with proportional representation of all the parties on the political spectrum, not necessarily mirroring the arithmetic of power that came out of the 2011 elections, yet respecting the balances that came out of the popular vote on that occasion.

It is up to our political leaders to spearhead a project of this nature, even if they are aware of their lack of popularity and credibility among Spaniards. If they are able to do this, rising above partisan politics and the thirst for power, Spain's institutional crisis can still be warded off. But if, hounded by public opinion and the shadows of their past, our leaders remain firmly self-absorbed while ignoring the citizens' pleas for change, then the regime born out of the 1978 Constitution will run unnecessary risks in the near future.

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS