Spaniards’ traditional support for the EU’s integration project is well-known, but the resilience of the data is surprisingly gratifying. The absence of euro-skeptic parties in Spain’s Congress has been confirmed by the elections of 2015 and 2016. In Spain, opposition to the EU is political suicide: the bloc is seen as beneficial to our country by 45% of those surveyed in the above-mentioned report; just 25% think the opposite.
Those benefits are, without a doubt, material. For many years, Spain has been a net recipient of EU funds, which have helped modernize the country. But Spaniards also value less-tangible benefits. Survey after survey (and this latest is no exception) highlight among the major achievements of the EU the right to live and work throughout the Union and the elimination of physical borders between member states. Decades of international isolation by the Franco dictatorship help to explain this. Spaniards are aware that things are better when they are open to the world.
The 40 years of dictatorship explain other things: Europe has meant democracy, the rule of law and social progress. These issues, despite the serious crisis, are not easily forgotten. And less so in a country that doesn’t stand out for having a strong national identity or much confidence in its politicians and institutions. The terrain is inhospitable for the far right, as the Real Instituto Elcano’s report points out: “The Spanish Exception: Unemployment, inequality and immigration, but no right-wing populist parties.”
The desire for a break with an authoritarian past where freedom was a taboo word also explains the country’s remarkable score in several social indicators of a progressive nature, among which stand out attitudes toward homosexuals (71% of Spaniards support same-sex marriage, with just 12% against it), as well as acceptance of immigrants.
Other studies, such as the World Values Survey or those by the Pew Research Center, confirm the weakness of homophobic attitudes in Spain. In the former, which measures tolerance, Spain, along with Netherlands and Sweden, leads the ranking. In the latter’s The Global Divide on Homosexuality, the attitude is reinforced, with 88% of Spaniards, the highest percentage in the survey, believing that society must accept homosexuality.
Immigration is not considered a problem in Spain. Data from the Chatham House study show that Spaniards have a better image of foreigners, including refugees and economic migrants, than other countries that were surveyed. Spain is the only country with a more positive than negative vision of the arrival of refugees (albeit limited, with 26% in favor and 25% against), with the same applying to economic migrants (25% in favor and 22% against).
Around the turn of the century, some specialists suggested that Spaniards’ positive attitude toward foreigners was not real, but instead a result of the limited number of them, and/or Spain’s healthy economy at the time. The data refutes this. Since the beginning of the century, Spain’s overseas population increased by several million (more than 10%) in just a few years, to which was added an economic crisis that did away with the “Spanish miracle” but that was not reflected by any substantive growth in xenophobic attitudes.
The fact that most immigrants (Latin Americans) are native Spanish speakers, or that the other main group, Romanians, find it easy to learn the language, will undoubtedly have influenced this. Either way, it is a reason for pride that there has been no substantial increase in rejection by Spaniards. The same applies to Spain being a leader in tolerance toward homosexuals, and the fact that Europhobia has not taken root. That said, we should not rest on our laurels.
Salvador Llaudes is a researcher at the Real Instituto Elcano.
English version by Nick Lyne.