Located at the crossroads of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, Europe and Africa, Spain’s history and culture is a tremendous diversity mix developing real passions for good food and wines and for living the good life.
Spain’s capitalist mixed economy is the 16th largest in the world and the 6th largest in the European Union, as well as the Eurozone’s 4th largest.
The local service and manufacturing sectors are strong, while agriculture (especially fruit and vegetables, olive oil and wine) and tourism are also very profitable. In the last five decades, international tourism in Spain has grown to become the second largest in the world in terms of spending, worth approximately 40 billion Euros or about 5% of GDP in 2006.
The Spanish economy was of the most dynamic in the EU, but the tourism, housing and construction industry mainstays were hit hard by the global economic crisis of 2008-9. The bursting of the housing bubble tipped Spain into a severe recession and by the spring of 2013 unemployment had risen to a peak of 27.2%.
Austerity measures imposed by the government in an effort to reduce the level of public debt sparked a wave of protests and gave rise to the Podemos (We Can Do It) political movement.
The economy nonetheless began to turn round by the end of 2013, and the country saw stronger than expected growth the following year, with unemployment falling back to 24.5%.
The economic recovery was initially lacklustre but it picked up in the spring of 2014 and has sparkled particularly this year, with growth of 0.9% in the first quarter (an annualised rate of 3.8%) and 1% in the second quarter. Unemployment remains troublingly high, at 22.5% in June, but has fallen sharply from its peak of 26.3% in early 2013.
All in all, Spain has been doing considerably better than the single-currency bloc as a whole, which grew in the first quarter of 2015 by a more sedate 0.4%, the Economist argues.
Regarding political challenges, one of Spain’s most serious domestic issues has been tension in the northern Basque region. A violent campaign by the armed Basque separatist group Eta led to nearly 850 deaths over four decades until, after several stalled cease-fires, it disbanded in 2012.
Shining in arts and culture
Spain is definitely shining in arts and culture. From Velazquez in the seventeenth century, through Goya straddling the eighteenth and nineteenth, to Picasso, Dali and Miro in the twentieth, Spain has the proudest of traditions in art.
Flamenco music and dance are widely admired around the world while Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote is one of the most popular ever written.
Cinema is much loved and the films of directors such as Pedro Almodovar, Alejandro Amenábar and Luis Buñuel have received several international prizes while attracing huge audiences.
Spanish cuisine is known for its paella (a rice dish with chicken, seafood and vegetables), tortilla (omelette with potatoes) and sangria (red wine served with fruit).
Europe’s youngest king trying to boost monarchy’s popularity
Felipe VI of Spain ascended the throne on 19 June 2014 following the abdication of his father, King Juan Carlos I. Upon his accession, he became the youngest monarch in Europe, being nine months younger than King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.
Although his powers are limited on paper, Felipe brought new soul to the monarchy institution in Spain, enjoying wide popularity mostly due to his pledges to give a hand in the country’s fighting the economic crisis and to repair the image of the monarchy shaken by some recent scandals.
Juan Carlos had outraged Spaniards in 2012 by going elephant hunting in Botswana at the height of Spain’s recession. Separately, Cristina was accused in a corruption probe targeting her husband.
Felipe VI kicked off a revamping campaign of the monarchy institution soon after he became king, launching a new palace code of conduct and published details of its spending, Felipe has also reached out to ordinary Spaniards and civil society.
In February 2015, Felipe announced that he would cut his salary by 20%.
Also in his first year Felipe has granted about 100 audiences, including to various non-governmental movements such as gay rights’ groups.
A poll conducted by El País revealed that a majority of Spaniards wish that Felipe play a greater role in politics, with 75% of the 600 surveyed people stating that they would approve if he personally pushed the political parties to reach agreements on national problems.
Moreover, a year after King Felipe VI took the throne on the abdication of Juan Carlos opinion polls show that he has strengthened the standing of a monarchy tainted by scandal. His most surprising move came in May this year when he faced his family’s biggest scandal head-on, stripping the title Duchess of Palma from his sister Cristina, who has been called to stand trial for alleged tax evasion.
Spaniards’ support for Spain’s system of constitutional monarchy has risen to 61.5 percent, according to a survey by pollster Sigma Dos.
King Felipe VI was popular even before becoming a king, revealing his closeness to the people. In May 2004, the popular prince married former CNN journalist Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano at the Cathedral Santa Maria la Real de le Almudena in Madrid. The stunning ceremony was watched by 25 million in Spain alone and attended by royals from around the world.
Prince Felipe has also competed in the Olympics. The athletic royal was a member of the Spanish sailing team in 1992 at the Barcelona Games.