Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Democratic recession

Distrust of politicians in Spain means the Socialist Party’s relaunch runs the risk of being stillborn

The economic recession may have come to an end in technical terms, but the democratic recession (a term coined by the Stanford professor Larry Diamond) is going on apace in all parts of the world, not least in our country. Democracies run the risk of becoming dysfunctional regimes, incapable of reacting to the demands of the citizen in the 21st century.

One mainstream idea of last week's Socialist Party (PSOE) political conference was concern over the quality of democracy: profound changes to be made via realistic reforms that involve no backward steps; political action centered on fighting inequality in all its manifestations, in the institutional system and in the productive model, as a way of preventing the citizen's disaffection and disgust with the system.

The main problem is the credibility of its proposals. How can we accept the claim that this time there is political will, when not long ago a change to the Constitution was smuggled in through the back door, showing that in the case of scarce resources, priority is given to paying foreign debt, and not to the services of the welfare state?

The very concept of democracy has been degraded and diluted. The Italian essayist Paolo Flores D'Arcais says that the word democracy is now about as precise as a cloud of smoke. "It can be claimed by the people in Tahrir Square and by the soldiers who shoot them; by the bearded Islamists who formed a government and then tampered with the Constitution; by the Occupy Wall Street movement and by Le Pen, father and daughter. By now it is only a soiled and shopworn flatus vocis."

How can we accept the claim that this time there is political will, when not long ago a change to the Constitution was smuggled in through the back door?

Albert Camus saw democracy as a state of society in which each individual has, at his starting point, every opportunity, and in which a privileged minority cannot keep the majority in an oppressed condition.

The context in which this concept of democracy has to be developed is the European one. It is not, just now, a very good context. When Europe does not advance, it goes backward.

The Socialist candidate in the elections to the European parliament and to the presidency of the European Commission, the German Martin Schulz, is worried about the state of the EU: "The crisis makes us unhappy with our federalism, with our economic system and even with our democracy [...]. If the EU were a state, it would fail to get through the process of admission, because many of its ambits are grossly lacking in sufficiently democratic structures." Indeed, in the corridors of the PSOE's political conference there was some concern about the autonomy of Martin Schulz, if Merkel reaches an understanding with the social-democrats in Germany.

If the EU context is bad, in Spain it is worse. According to a report by the think-tank Fundación Alternativas, the percentage of dissatisfaction with the functioning of democracy in our country is 17 points higher than the EU average. Spain has the lowest percentage of citizens satisfied with the way their country is going (with the exception of Greece). Distrust of the national government and parliament are the second highest in the EU. The support base for our political and economic system is broken; the belief that democracy is the best form of government, and the market the best form of economy, is no longer unanimous.

If we were to sum up the growing questioning of democracy, it might come down to three points: first, the markets do not function (and a good example is the labor market in Spain); second, the political system (democracy) is not capable of correcting the failures of the market; and third, as a consequence, the citizen distrusts the market economy and democracy alike, which are rapidly losing the moral authority they used to enjoy — as in certain tragic moments of the world's recent history.

That is the real problem.

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