Spain and the EU's New Applicants: Expect the Unexpected

Spain joined the European Union fifteen years ago on 1 January 1986, eleven years after the death of General Franco, the victor of the bloody civil war who had imposed an authoritarian catholic dictatorship on the country for two generations. Spain’s experience raises interesting questions for candidate countries about how long absences of democracy may inhibit a state from adapting speedily to the requirements of Union accession and how a political and economic laggard can catch up with the European average.

The World Today
5 minute READ

Monica Threlfall

Senior Lecturer in Politics at Loughborough University

From the Mediterranean comes a warning to Eastern European states preparing for membership that surprises are in store for them and that politicians should expect the unexpected.

Spain’s historic predicament as an unstable state unable to sustain the give-and-take needed for liberal-democratic government – the language even lacked a proper word for compromise – offered little but further turmoil after General Franco’s death. Centuries of economic decline and the complete destruction of production and infrastructure in the civil war had produced deep poverty and waves of emigration. Even the industrial base developed in the 1960s with heavy state-support remained uncompetitive or soon become obsolete. Further pain seemed likely as the fledgling democracy was flapping its wings at the gates of the European Union (EU).

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