Spain may win the race to be the first European democracy to fall
Spanish democracy has never been tested at any time in its short history against the strain of such terrible (and worsening) social problems
If one had to place bets on which European democracy will go down first, the temptation would surely be to dismiss the question out of hand. By which I do not mean that the collapse of democracy in modern Europe is unthinkable.
On the contrary, the only objection is the assumption that European democracies will go down individually, rather than opting for collective suicide in adopting European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's plans for the kind of inevitably post-democratic federation outlined in his "State of the Union" address earlier this month.
That said, it might never happen. Which brings us back to the original question. Who's first? Plainly, there's going to be stiff competition from Greece and Italy, but Spain may well be in pole position. This is not alarmism. Consider the following.
As we were reminded on Wednesday by the country's central bank, its economy remains mired in recession with gross domestic product projected to have contracted by 0.4 percent in the third quarter, as compared to the second. Benchmark bond yields are back above 6.0 percent. The banks are failing and will need a massive bailout. The jobless rate is a stunning 25 percent.
As has been widely pointed out, Spanish unemployment is now at the highest level since 1976 -- before the country had completed its transition from the death of Franco to fully fledged democratic rule. In other words, Spanish democracy has never been tested at any time in its short history against the strain of such terrible (and worsening) social problems.
But it's worse than it looks. There is renewed impetus for greater autonomy and even fully fledged independence from the country's restive regions. The Catalan regional government has just called elections for November 25th, and they are already being billed as a "referendum" on "self-determination".
The integrity of the Spanish state is far more vulnerable than many outside the country appear to realise, and it is not out of the question these days that Spain could descend into a spiral of political, social and economic chaos with each component of that unhappy triumvirate impacting on the others.
Of course, that is but one scenario among several. It is quite possible that between the best and the worst possible outcomes, Spain will somehow muddle through.
But unless muddling through is accompanied by jettisoning the euro, which makes the country's economy permanently uncompetitive and which, via absurdly low attendant interest rates in the last decade, played a major role in booming and then busting the economy, it is difficult to envisage a rosy conclusion.
Doggedly sticking with the single currency, and thus condemning Spain to years of recession and mass unemployment, the question of whether Spanish democracy can ultimately survive would then resurface a few years down the road.
It is not a pleasant picture. But such is the folly of the European project as conceived by the continent's ruling elites, it is a picture that is staring us in the face.
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