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Madrid view: A psychological blow

The bailout is here. Recent events made it predictable, but we are still a little incredulous. It is a psychological blow, and a landmark in our relations with the EU. In a country where the feeling of collective self-esteem has always run parallel with achievements in the European ambit, we fail see how it has come to this.

Certain underlying reasons made the bailout inevitable. First, it is clear that the Spanish banking system requires an injection of funds far superior to what Spain might manage by itself. Second, the instability of the debt markets is apparent in the continuing rise of the risk premium, which was becoming unsustainable. Third, the dim prospects of employment and growth, which make it hard for Spain to comply with deficit-reduction objectives, which would lead to a new round of cutbacks and structural reforms.

The government’s poor management of financial

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Madrid view: Rescue of democracy

Since the crisis broke, we have been hearing about cutbacks and reforms every day. But there is a reform we need urgently, and it is not even on the agenda: the reform of our democratic system. True, the crisis is very largely due to the incompleteness and defects of the EU. But it also shows up the defects of our democracy: the weakness of the state, vulnerable to hijacking by sectorial interests — private, or grouped around political parties.

Disconcerted by the speed of events, we fail to see that the viability of our economic reforms requires not only better institutions of EU governance, but also an in-depth revision of the functioning of our own political system. We thought that Spain had been profoundly Europeanized; but we now see how much fiction there was surrounding this process.

Just as the northern EU countries are still light-years ahead of Spain in terms of their

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Madrid view: the Alabama syndrome

Have you ever heard an American suggest that the poor southern states ought to leave the Union because they are too heavy a burden? 

Alabama, for example, is home to 4.8 million inhabitants, about 1.5 percent of the US population (311 million). Its annual per capita income is around $34,000, not far above Mississippi at the bottom of the list. In the North is Massachusetts, second-richest state at $54,000 per capita, just behind Connecticut at the top. 

Now think of Greece: 11 million inhabitants, 2.5 percent of the EU population (501 million), or 3.3 percent of the euro-zone population (329 million). Greece and Germany are both poorer than the US states mentioned above, Greece having a per capita income of some $28,000 and Germany some $44,000, both less than Alabama and Massachusetts, respectively. So, in terms both of population size and income difference, the US and the euro

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Madrid view: Let the people speak

The chroniclers of the time say that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address surprised everyone in its brevity. His predecessor on the platform, a well-known orator, took two hours to perform a speech of 13,000 words, all forgotten. But Lincoln’s 300 words, delivered in a few minutes, went down in history as containing a definition, in just 11 words, of what a democratic government must be.

That definition was “government of the people, by the people and for the people,” and is not just rhetoric. It is still there today, enshrined in Article 2 of the Constitution of the French Republic, which held its presidential elections on Sunday. Yes, the 1958 Constitution establishes Lincoln’s triple distinction, in the same terms, as the guiding principle of the Republic. Thanks to Lincoln, everyone has a simple yardstick to distinguish a government that is democratic from one that isn’t. Government of

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Madrid view: Mutiny on the Bounty

Power can be exercised directly, by submitting an issue to a vote, or more subtly, by eliminating all discussion on a policy and its alternatives from public discourse. What is not talked about does not exist. This is why politicians devote so much energy to controlling the public agenda. This was the way things were in the EU with regard to austerity. But in less than a week the dykes have broken and we are awash in discussion. As with any sudden change, it is easier to explain it after the fact than to predict it before.

In the last two years many voices have been raised in favor of a change of strategy. Yet they always came to nothing. They failed mainly because the people these messages were addressed to might question the legitimacy of those who proposed a change of course. On the one hand, messages from across the Atlantic were rejected on the grounds that the US and the EU

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