Membership of the European Union Outweighed its Advantages

How has fifteen years of European Union membership affected politics, economy and culture in Spain? In what ways has Spain's membership of the European Union been of benefit? Have these benefits been worth the Spaniards' efforts to go through the thorny journey? These questions will be born in mind throughout this essay as it aims to answer the question whether or not the advantages have outweighed the costs of Spain's EU membership since its acceptance in 1, January, 1986.

In 1982, the Spanish Socialist Worker's Party (PSOE) came to power and played a crucial role leading the country down the road to European Community membership, which they associated with modernization1. Several factors contributed to Spain's decision to apply for EC membership. First, Spain wanted to complete the process of gaining credibility in the political arena and saw EC membership as a way of solidifying its acceptance of democracy. Second, on a symbolic level, membership for Spain represented a decisive break from the country's past.

In terms of economic benefits, Spain wanted to gain entry into the EC's agriculture market as well gain benefits from attracting foreign investment. Spain's desire for EC membership was also triggered by the large amounts of structural funds that the country would receive upon accession. First, this essay will briefly look into the political structure of the European Union and then analyze the impacts it has had on Spain. Next, it will focus on the economic dimension of the integration into the European Union and demonstrate the advantages for Spain's economy.

Thirdly, other cultural and societal benefits of the European Union membership will be dealt with. Lastly, it will conclude by stating that on balance Spain has benefited from accession to the EU more than it has lost out. First, Maastricht Treaty of February 1992 was a decisive step towards the "ever closer union," an aspiration first expressed in the Treaty of Rome (1957) because it incorporated the hitherto separate economic and political aims into a new body called the European Union(EU)2.

Liberal democracy was the main principle on which the union was based, so its aims have been bringing about "equality of civil and social rights, of living and working conditions, of opportunities, and of income across the Community"3. The European Union has a Commission with its members pledged to act in the EU 's interests; a council, which is made up of representatives of the member states sharing legislative authority with, a directly elected parliament, and a court of justice.

The main political benefits of the European Union membership have been the consolidation of democracy and Spain's new role as a key international actor. In 1986, the Spanish people and major political parties which are often divided over other issues, all firmly supported the then named as the European Community (EC) membership to advance Spain's modernization as well as its international role. The consolidation of democracy has begun by building upon the reform credentials, which were set by the EC and met by Spain before becoming a member.

In what ways has the EC membership consolidated democracy? First it prevented another undemocratic regime by requiring Spain to open and align its political system with the other EC member states, and it created political stability, representation and efficacy by allocating political powers at many levels of governance. Also, it brought about equal treatment. The dismantling of the dictatorship of Franco and the establishment of democratic political institutions did not immediately permeate all levels of society.

Reactionary elements within the army and other political institutions remained opposed to democracy, and coup attempts were a persistent feature of the early years of democratic rule. Most significant of these occurred in February 1981; however, intervention of King Juan Carlos, the commander in chief of Spain's military forces, on the side of the new democratic order, ended the dangerous incident. Spain's membership of the European Community, which has been renown for its commitment to liberal democratic values reduced the risk of restoring a "quasi-Francoist dictatorship"4 by helping Spain modernize its political democratic institutions.

The powers of the new state would now be checked and balanced by the EU government. Yet, it would have representation at this higher level of government. Spain has 2 Commissioners in the European Commission, 8 Votes in the Council of Ministers, 64 Seats in the European Parliament and 1 Judge on the European Court of Justice5. Similarly, Spanish state, which had already started to be less centralized after the collapse of the dictatorship needed to become even more pluralistic by improving channels of cooperation with its regions.

It had to share its powers with the regional, local and also the European level government. For instance, when we look at Catalonia, we see that this multi level structure brings about an allocation of certain policy making responsibilities at each level, and meets the needs of the Catalan people best. Furthermore, by generating competition between the different levels of government, it improves the quality of services as well as increasing efficiency in policy making.

6 However, it is also argued that it increases costs as some of the responsibilities between these governments overlap and causes conflicts between the different levels of governments or between the parties7. This new institutional arrangement, whereby Francoist forces were restrained, has brought about a more democratic system. The strongest proof of this is reflected by the fact that Spain has never returned to dictatorship after its commitment to liberal democracy under the EU, and in the contrary it has become a leader to promote liberal democracy within the South American countries.

Secondly, EU has been active in defending the social rights of sections of society who suffer discrimination, such as migrant workers, women and workers in general promoted by the socialist standpoint the European Parliament has usually taken. In Spain, membership of the EC has been judged "substantially beneficial as far as matters of equal treatment are concerned"8. Further evidence to this is the Catalan welfare state where the EU has a medium and high degree of involvement in policy areas such as gender equality and immigration respectively9.

Also, the European Court of Justice acts as the highest level body to appeal to when any citizen claims to be subject to a violation of his rights. As the previous analysis has shown, Spain's main motivation behind its application to the European Union was to strengthen its democratic regime, but equally important and linked to it, it wanted to end the relative isolation that resulted from Franco's foreign policies in order to become fully integrated into the international community10. Under pressure by the Western powers, Spain joined NATO in return for membership in the EC.

This dual membership gave the Spanish state the opportunity to become a key player in the international political arena. A significant example to a crucial role Spain played in the international politics is during 1990, when the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was held in Palma de Mallorca. Confronted with the issue of immigration from the southern part of the Mediterranean and environmental degradation, Spain achieved to persuade CSCE to identify "economic cooperation as central to the protection of the Mediterranean" and to attract attention to the necessity of social and economic development in the region11.

However, there are also those who argue that Spain is becoming more and more dependent on others in making its foreign policies. For example, the normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel and Albania in 1986 was when Spain had to align its diplomatic relations with the other EC members'. Yet, this should not be considered as being dependent on others because Spain chooses to do so to benefit from it in return. The next part of the essay will analyse the economic impacts of the EU membership on Spain and will show that there have been very significant improvements in its economy after its accession in 1986.

Furthermore, these economic benefits have often resulted in positive political outcomes for Spain; for example, with more economic powers, Spain has gained a prestige and become a first world country. This, in turn, gave it more political power in the international arena. However, the next section will focus only on the economic benefits by looking specifically at the increase in trade and investment, modernization and structural funds. Spain's long adherence to protectionism had been a major factor in its technological and economic backwardness.

The Socialist government's commitment to economic modernization and to Spain's integration into the European Community thus represented a historic landmark. The economic reforms that have started before Spain's accession to the EC increasingly continued during its EU membership, and later in 1992, climaxed with the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, which set out a long list of criteria required the country to further open its economy, modernize its industrial base, improve infrastructure, and revise economic legislation to conform to EU guidelines.

In doing so, Spain increased GDP growth, reduced the public debt, reduced unemployment, and reduced inflation. By joining the EC, Spain opened its markets to an economic bloc with fifteen times more economic purchasing power12. This resulted in a remarkable increase in trade and investment. For example, between 1985 and 1990, Spanish exports to the EC rose from half to nearly three quarters of total exports, while imports from member states rose from 37% to 60% of total imports13.

Meanwhile, between 1986 and 1990, foreign direct investment into Spain reached 10 billion pesetas worth of capital which was ten times more than in the previous five years14. Most of the foreign investment was from the other EC countries and next the US. As a result, EC membership provided Spain with enormous resources to modernize its economic infrastructure. After 1986, Spain's roads, railways, airports and irrigation and telecommunications systems all underwent a spectacular transformation. For example, the network of roads and highways more than doubled to 7,400 km between 1985 and 199315.

However, the results for different industrial sectors have been mixed; certain sectors have attracted more investment than others from abroad. For example, while the FDI, attracted by the financial and business services increased from 18. 8% in 1985 to 37. 4 in 1989, it dropped from 63. 3% in 1985 to 41. 9% in 1989 for manufacturing type industries 16. Moreover, sectors like agriculture and fisheries have hardly benefited from FDI. Therefore, the EU decided to support these sectors in decline and rural agricultural regions in need of economic development through its structural funds in order to promote development.

The main structural funds were ERDF(The European Regional Development Fund), EAGG(European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund) and the European Social Fund. Between 1989 and 1993, Spain received 12 billion ECUs through these funds to raise living standards and modernize the infrastructure of its less developed regions17. Also, Spain played an important part in initiating the Cohesion Funds and strengthening the existing Structural Funds for the poorer members of the Community.

In early 1991, as the Community was discussing the Maastricht Treaty, Spain addressed the issue of economic disparity and proposed a special fund to narrow the gap. Spanish President Felipe Gonzalez almost succeeded in bringing the European Council meeting to a halt on this issue and threatened to block negotiations on the Maastricht Treaty if such issues were not addressed and acted upon. In the end, Spain succeeded in the implementation of the Cohesion Funds for the poorer members – Ireland, Greece Spain and Portugal – and also was able to increase Community funding for the Structural Funds.

Since 1995, Spain has received about 50 percent, or 1576 million ECUs, of the total structural funds, which have been utilized towards improving the environmental and transportation sectors18. Furthermore, tourism sector has benefited largely from these EU Structural Funds, which have developed poor regions and attracted investments, which in turn attracted tourists from the other EC countries. For this same reason modernisation of buildings of architectural interest in Aragon, was undertaken to provide tourist accommodation and alternative sources of income as agricultural revenue in the province was inadequate.

And 225 million ECUs was given for this project. 19 Finally, the creation of "Schengen area" by ending internal border checks for the EU citizens has made traveling much easier for the Spaniards because they do not need to get visas in order to pass borders across Europe anymore. Students have also benefited from the European Union both through the scholarships and funds provided by the EU to finance their studies, and also free movement has made it much easier for them to study in another member country.

And last but not least, European citizenship ended some of the discriminations that the Spaniard immigrants across Europe had suffered. Consequently, by first looking at the political, then the economic and social impacts of the membership of the European Union on Spain, this essay has come to the conclusion that its integration into the EU has been very beneficial for Spain by helping it to consolidate its democracy, end its isolation from the rest of the world and, equally important, develop its economy through modernisation.

During its membership over the past fifteen years, Spain has had a very successful transformation from a not so democratic state to a highly democratic state. Besides, as the examples have supported, the economic success of Spain during this time can not be exaggerated. However, still, challenges such as corruption, terrorism, high unemployment and relative poverty (compared to its European partners) remain in front of Spain, and thus Spain, evaluating its last fifteen years, is unlikely to end this beneficial partnership in the future.