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Modernizing Spain

Constitutional reform must facilitate advanced public policy

Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and Mariano Rajoy
Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and Mariano RajoyJULIÁN ROJAS

The 1978 Constitution served the purpose of modernizing Spain, incorporating it into the democratic world, giving it a structure based on autonomous regions with devolved powers, and activating the forms of a social market economy. The reform that must now be designed acquires full meaning because of the existing need for a new upgrade.

The task involves more than simply filling in the gaps or making up for the shortcomings that the passage of time has created in the document that organizes the way Spaniards coexist. It’s about facilitating a new leap in order to adapt to the current pressing needs; it’s about improving public policies that have proven themselves to be mediocre; and it’s about developing an advanced position as a country on a par with the best role models around us.

It is unacceptable for one of the main members of the EU to get flagged as deficient in many essential aspects of public life

In short, it’s about finding a better fit for Spain within a globalized world that did not exist as such in the 1970s; within a Europe that is much more consolidated now than it was back then; in a more aggressive, competitive context where social needs and territorial requirements have taken center stage due to the great recession, and also as a result of the wear and tear on an otherwise successful system.

The final outcome of the reform may be more or less ambitious with regard to content: as subject matter is put up for debate, we should not forget that we are not entering a whole new constituent process, but a process of reform. We are not starting from scratch, nor is it ever advisable to undertake projects with an attitude that deliberately ignores earlier progress on the matter.

But if there is one issue where we will absolutely need to be forward-looking, it is the improvement of our public policies. It is unacceptable for one of the main members of the European Union to keep getting flagged as deficient in many essential aspects of public life: the quality of education, the training of professionals, innovation levels, the efficiency of our institutions, and access to equal opportunities.

The challenge lies in the amount of undertakings and, above all, the quality of the same

The territorial issue, which is currently going through a period of agitation, confusion and tribulation, is a clear example of the need for reform, and one of the main incentives for change. But it is not the only one. The aspirations of many to greater and better self-government will find an efficient tool in a better government for all with good coordination among the various administrations.

The challenge lies both in the amount of undertakings and, above all, the quality of the same. It is not necessarily essential to increase the amount of public intervention at this or that level of governance, or even at the national level. What is unavoidable, however, is that any new power, or alteration to an existing power, should serve to increase the efficiency of the system and citizen satisfaction, not the opposite.

All approaches should be focused on the debate, in full awareness that there are significant differences of opinion on which direction these reforms should take. A good starting point should be acknowledgment that there is a high degree of decentralization in Spain already, but that the level of shared responsibility is low, and that financing is deficient. It should also be acknowledged that the mechanisms for forging federal loyalty at every level (the Senate, for example) are currently weak, or else more apparent than real.

English version by Susana Urra.

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