It’s been 40 years since Spain cast off the shackles of dictatorship. In the ensuing decades, the country has grown in wealth and stature to become one of Europe’s great success stories. However, as 2018 slowly unfolds, the shockwaves from Catalan’s dramatic bid for independence are still being felt. According to Spanish Secretary of State for European Affairs, Jorge Toledo, the restoration of democracy in Spain is a crucial component to the country’s continued prosperity.
“This has been by far the most serious constitutional crisis,” Mr. Toledo admitted. “But constitutional order, which is the basis of our rights and freedom after 40 years of dictatorship, has been restored.” He emphasized that this order is essential to maintaining the country’s stable atmosphere and solid legal framework.
Continued Momentum for Spain
The restoration of democracy for Spain is undoubtedly a subject Mr. Toledo passionately supports, but he is also unafraid of domestic change, as long as it is manifested correctly. “If somebody is not comfortable with the current constitutional situation, the constitution itself provides ways and means to change it. But you have to follow the democratic ways to change it,” he explained.
In 1978, when Spain was laying the foundations for a dictator-free future, over 90% of the Catalan population approved the constitution. This was also when the country set into place the legal mechanisms necessary to change the constitution. However, in last October’s controversial Catalan elections, only 53% of the Catalan population voted for non-independence parties. “What you cannot do,” noted Mr. Toledo emphatically, “and I think this is a very important lesson of this constitutional crisis, is that when you don’t have enough support, then you just jump over the law. This is not democratic.”
Mr. Toledo highlighted the importance of open communication with the government, in order to offer maximum support to all of Spain’s residents. “If you don’t have enough support you have to speak to us and try to reach a compromise within the democratic framework,” he highlights. “A democratic framework that has been there since 1978 when the Constitution and then the Catalan Statute of Autonomy were approved.”
Stability and Prosperity
The Catalan question aside, the Secretary of State for European Affairs firmly believes that years are by far the most successful, stable, and prosperous years in Spanish history for all regions of the country. He openly supported the efforts of the European Union as well as Spain’s continual contributions to the region’s integration. “We have always been, and will always be, in the frontline of the European integration process,” he stated. “We are a positive force within this process, and that’s the way we want it to stay.”
Like many European countries, Spain has been through some of the worst economic and financial periods in recent times, but the country’s recovery is gaining momentum. At the core of this fast-paced upturn is the creation of new employment opportunities. Mr. Toledo said that this initiative has given the country impetus as well as authority to embrace the European integration process, which he believes is at the centre of Spanish interests.
Seven South EU Countries Unite
The expansion of the EU into Central and Eastern Europe in the early part of the 21st century meant that the number of varying cultures and interests within the bloc increased tremendously. While still holding true to the tenets of the European Union, seven members in the southern region converged to deepen their collaboration through summits between their respective heads of state (France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta). First proposed by the Greek government, the idea behind the South EU Summit was to focus on the unique attributes and challenges that these particular countries face. While the Summit is a formal expression of such regional collaboration, Mr. Toledo notes that these countries have long been working together. “There has always been cooperation between Mediterranean or Southern European countries on many different issues such as immigration or relations with North Africa,” he explained. “What is new, however, is that thanks to the initiative of the Greek government, we turned that into a summit of heads of state and government, and I think it is a very positive evolution.”
Sharing common challenges creates common interests, and one of the most pressing issues right now for the seven Southern EU countries is immigration. “All our countries are external frontiers of the European Union,” explains Mr. Toledo. “We have a common interest in tackling the immigration issue together because we are defending the whole European border.” He maintains that the group is focused on regional issues, as they relate to the success of the greater group, the EU. “Something we share in Southern European countries is that we are pro-European integration.”
Secretary Toledo highlighted Europe’s recent Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence (known as PESCO) as a leading example of the ongoing EU-integration process. PESCO has been three years in the making, with 25 of the 28 EU states joining forces to form a united, permanent defence pact. Its creation endeavours to provide Europe with an integrated, fast-acting armed forces led response capability. “We are going to work together to make the European defence pillar stronger because we need it now in the new international circumstances,” he concludes.