The Aging of Spanish Democracy

All unextraordinary men, the Uruguayan novelist Juan Carlos Onetti once wrote, are “already coming apart” once they’ve turned 40. After that, it’s the beginning of the end. This may be nowhere truer than in politics, where the younger you start, the more likely you’ll turn a premature gray. In Spain now, the political class is aging and, as Onetti warned, it is a maturity that smacks of senescence. On Nov. 20, the 36th anniversary of Francisco Franco’s death, Spaniards will choose between a 60-year-old Socialist, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, and a 56-year-old conservative, Mariano Rajoy. By the standards of this fledgling democracy, only 34 years old itself, these men are old, and a sign that their parties have not aged well. Since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975, all of the elected prime ministers had been young, in their 40s when they took office. (source: by Jonathan Blitzer – NYTimes – 04/11/2011)

The reformer Adolfo Suárez, 48 at the time, was forced to quit in 1981 amid an irrepressible tide of disenchantment with his leadership, which a younger generation felt was stained by the institutions and mentalities of old. The charismatic Felipe González, who resoundingly won election the following year, at 40, left the Moncloa Palace, the official residence, under scandal in 1996. His successor, the conservative José María Aznar, was 43. But by 2004, after embroiling Spain in the Iraq war, Mr. Aznar had soured his party’s chances; after a terrorist attack days before the election, the 43-year-old Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero emerged as the victor. Now his unpopularity has brought early elections. Mr. Zapatero’s demise seems to mark the end of the line. In lieu of a fresh visage to replace him are stalwart survivors of partisan infighting, facing an electorate ever more cynical about political solutions to an economic and social quagmire. Call it a democracy’s midlife crisis.

The choice now, one columnist lamented in El País, is between politicians who have long been the “No. 2 men” of their parties, Mr. Rubalcaba a tactician and technocrat and Mr. Rajoy a two-time loser (2004 and 2008). Neither has sounded the clarion call of youthful renewal that echoed from Mr. González to Mr. Zapatero. “The political class could have renewed itself but has not,” said the Spanish novelist Javier Cercas, who wrote “The Anatomy of a Moment,” an account of a 1981 coup attempt and the fall of Mr. Suárez. The history of Franco’s twilight years, and the transition to democracy that followed, explains the generational trend. With a young left taking shape in the mid-1970s, and a right desperate to outrun its associations with Franco, fresh-faced leaders embodied regeneration. At every turn since, candidates talked of new beginnings until now, when fresh ideas are scarce. Spain’s government is in thrall to Brussels, and the social safety net is fraying. Both parties vow not to cut social services too deeply, but the public knows that more austerity is coming. So there is no change to believe in, and the public has turned salty in its indignation. And this is the fatal twist: the longer a politician has been at it, the harder it is to wash his hands of a partisan taint. A big part of the disillusionment, said the historian Santos Juliá, “is the dominance of partisanship and politicization.” Mr. Cercas agreed: “This is not a democracy, but a partitocracy, a government by the parties. When democracy took root, the political class was concerned that political parties didn’t exist.” Back then, many parties were still illegal, as they were under Franco. So, Mr. Cercas said, “the political class made sure to create a strong partisan tradition.” Now, however, the formulas for apportioning electoral districts have effectively concentrated power in the hands of the two major parties, and Spain’s myriad smaller parties cannot compete.

In the late 1970s the formulas made more sense, but in 2011 they rankle as an odd residue of the transition. Meanwhile, exhausted politicians use the ethos of strong parties as an excuse to invoke party unity, and answer to the electorate later. After the Socialists were decimated in local elections last May, the party closed ranks around Mr. Rubalcaba to avoid divisive primaries before national elections. It was a puzzling, but revealing, reaction to a public rebuke at the ballot box. Popular ire, meanwhile, has shifted to the two-party system itself, especially to “closed” or “blocked” lists of candidates that voters don’t control. A recent study of select provinces revealed that more than half of conservatives and one-third of Socialists on the lists were being investigated for corruption. A youth protest movement has been decrying the unresponsiveness of the political class with twin slogans: “The politicians don’t represent us” and “They call it democracy, but it’s not that.” Recent polls found that only about 55 percent of these “indignados” turned out to vote in municipal elections (10 percent less than the national average). Of those who did, 15 percent cast blank ballots. If Spain’s famed transition brought it democratic institutions, the present moment may well be exposing the limits of their promise. Many Spaniards are still proud of the transition as a model for achieving civic maturity. But in a newer age of enfeebled democracy, a younger generation is having a falling-out with government itself. 

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Mercosur firmará en diciembre un acuerdo de libre comercio con Palestina

Mercosur firmará el próximo mes de diciembre un acuerdo de libre comercio con Palestina, anunció el canciller uruguayo, Luis Almagro, cuyo país ejerce la presidencia temporal del bloque. La negociación sobre el acuerdo “está prácticamente concluida” y la firma será el 20 de diciembre durante la Cumbre del Mercosur en la cual Uruguay traspasará la presidencia semestral a Argentina, agregó Almagro durante un encuentro con la Asociación de la Prensa Extranjera en Uruguay (APEU). Almagro destacó que debido a la firma del acuerdo, el presidente de la Autoridad Nacional Palestina (ANP), Mahmud Abás, fue invitado a participar en la Cumbre del Mercosur. Uruguay se convirtió a mediados del pasado marzo en el noveno país suramericano que reconoce formalmente a Palestina como Estado. Venezuela, que no tiene relaciones diplomáticas con Israel desde 2009, hace años que lo reconoce con las fronteras de 1967, previas a la Guerra de los Seis Días, mientras que Brasil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Perú y Paraguay lo hicieron recientemente. Uruguay fue el primer país de América Latina en reconocer el Estado de Israel en 1948. (Fuente: Infolatam – 03/11/2011)

Europeus e europeus

Ontem à noite, ao observar a conferência de imprensa do presidente Sarkozy e da chanceler Merkel, em Cannes, na qual ambos se pronunciaram sobre as consequências da crise grega para o projeto europeu, dei por mim a pensar nos diferentes europeus que somos. (Fonte: Francisco Seixas da Costa – duas ou tres coisas – 03/11/2011)

Um cidadão alemão ou francês ouve o chefe do executivo do seu país a dar mostras de autoridade sobre o processo económico-financeiro europeu, notando que a palavra desses dirigentes pesa nas decisões que a Europa toma, conta mais do que a de outros para a formulação da vontade política coletiva, seja ela qual for. Assim, ao votar nas suas eleições nacionais, ao escolher um líder para o representar, ou um parlamento para eleger esse líder, esse cidadão, alemão ou francês, sabe que essa pessoa vai ter ao seu dispor uma força capaz de assumir, com eficácia, pelo menos relativa, o interesse do seu país no quadro externo.

Coloquemo-nos agora no lugar de um cidadão grego: desde há anos, vê regressar o seu líder, chegado das reuniões de Bruxelas, ajoujado sob o peso de decisões que teve de aceitar, debaixo da pressão de uma situação económica muito preocupante, com a vida social do seu país a degradar-se dia após dia. Esse cidadão, ao ser chamado a votar, percebe que, eleja ele quem eleger, o poder desses seus representantes será sempre, à partida, muito limitado, em particular no tocante à influência que pode vir a ter nas decisões tomadas em instâncias coletivas externas, contudo com forte impacto sobre seu país. O que quis significar com o que atrás escrevi foi o facto de haver hoje um sério problema de legitimidade política à escala europeia. Na História, sempre houve uma hierarquia de poderes nacionais, derivada da força relativa dos Estados. O essencial das decisões que importavam aos Estados permanecia, no entanto, no seu seio, onde a soberania era exercida em quase plenitude. Nos seus primeiros tempos, o modelo europeu de integração, ao ter preservado a unanimidade, para o essencial das decisões, equiparava os Estados, que assim exerciam um (pelo menos teórico) direito de veto. E até mesmo nas questões que já eram decididas por maioria qualificada era preservada, por uma espécie de “gentlemen’s agreement” (o famoso “compromisso do Luxemburgo”), a possibilidade de invocação do “interesse vital”. A Europa parecia ter encontrado um modelo equilibrado de expressão desses poderes onde, não deixando de tomar em conta a importância real de cada um, era gerada uma expressão moderada da resultante coletiva, que se projetava sobre todo o grupo.

Em poucos anos, esse mundo europeu, movido por uma incontrolável ânsia de eficácia, mudou. E mudou precisamente num tempo em que muitas das funções de soberania passaram a ser “partilhadas” (o que era uma realidade passou a eufemismo) a nível europeu. Ora quando, dada a extrema sensibilidade das questões em causa, a lógica apontaria para que houvesse um cuidado ainda maior na capacidade de cada Estado preservar algum controlo de interesses próprios de soberania, aconteceu precisamente o contrário: alguns Estados perderam, pelos tratados ou pela prática, uma capacidade mínima de determinar o seu futuro. A evolução dos últimos tempos, com a trágica diluição do poder comunitário independente que a Comissão Europeia era obrigada a representar e com a emergência de uma intergovernamentalidade com um brutal desequilíbrio dos poderes dos Estados, acaba assim por relevar na praça pública, de forma quase cruel, a legitimidade diferenciada dos decisores políticos de cada Estado. Tudo isto é muito perigoso para a democracia. Como se está a ver na Grécia.

Link: http://duas-ou-tres.blogspot.com/2011/11/europeus-e-europeus.html

Wary of China, Its Southern Neighbors Court India

China’s growing power and muscle-flexing vis-à-vis its neighbors have now resulted in a regional balancing effort. Earlier this month presidents of China’s southern neighbors, Burma and Vietnam, made official visits to India, as much recognition of India’s growing economic and political heft as acknowledgement that India is a good bet as they seek strategic balance in a region transformed by China’s rapid ascent (…..) India is emerging as a serious player in the Asian strategic landscape as smaller states in East Asia reach out to it for trade, diplomacy and, potentially, as key regional balancer. The “Look East” policy initiated by one of the most visionary prime ministers India has ever had, P.V. Narasimha Rao, is now the cornerstone of India’s engagement with the world’s most economically dynamic region. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made it clear that his government’s foreign-policy priority will be east and southeast Asia, poised for sustained growth in the 21st century. China is too big and too powerful to be ignored by the regional states. But the states in China’s vicinity are now seeking to expand their strategic space by reaching out to other regional and global powers. Smaller states in the region are now looking to India to act as a balancer in view of China’s growing influence and America’s anticipated retrenchment from the region in the near future, while larger states see India as an attractive engine for regional growth. To live up to its full potential and meet the region’s expectations, India must do a more convincing job of emerging as a credible strategic partner of the region. Neither India nor the regional states in East Asia have incentive to define their relationship in opposition to China. But they are certainly interested in leveraging their ties with other states to gain benefits from China and bring a semblance of equality in their relationships. Great power politics in the region have only just begun.

Link: http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/wary-china-its-southern-neighbors-court-india