SPAIN IN THE EU: Thirty Years Just Yesterday!

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by Leanna Carroll

Adjusting to a new place can prove to be difficult as it comes with several obstacles: language, environment, culture, etc. Additionally, moving to a completely new country means you’re now faced with the daunting task of learning both an entire new history and political system — which, for some, is not a walk in the park. For me, the move from the United States to Spain is proving to be challenging, given that the structure of Spain’s government is (in a word) complex.


Following Spain’s adhesion to the EU, then the EEC, the Community held a summit meeting in Brussels. See “The Big Three” at the time — Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand, and Helmut Kohl — standing in the front row. Then Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez is fourth from the left of the same row.

The key to gaining a rich understanding of a country’s government is to first understand the simple obvious (but most important) facts. In my case, they are that Spain is a constitutional monarchy and that King Felipe VI has been the head of said monarchy since June 19th, 2014. Additionally, it’s important for me to remember that while maintaining its own government, Spain is also a member of the European Union since 1986 which means that it has surrendered part of its sovereignty to that union.

Prior to their induction into the EU, Spain’s history was quite “eventful”. In my opinion, understanding this history is another key factor to an overall understanding of the country itself. Here are the key facts leading up to 1986:

• The Spanish Civil War began in 1936, splitting the country into two belligerent camps.

• General Francisco Franco led the Nationalist side. The Nationalists went on to win the war and, as a result, Franco became a dictator.

• Throughout the years opposition to the Franco regime became clear as various leaders throughout Europe consistently met to discuss Spain’s future.

• Franco passed away in 1975 and was succeeded by Juan Carlos I (King of Spain/Head of State). A new constitution was created in 1978 which restored democracy and recognized the 17 autonomous communities of Spain.

Spain's presence in the EU has decidedly enriched the Union's cultural repertoire

17th century Spanish poet-playwright Lope de Vega’s comedy is staged at the Hungarian Theater Museum and Institute. (Spain’s presence in the EU has enriched the Union’s cultural repertoire.)

This brings us to 1986, the year Spain joined the European Union. As someone from outside of Europe, the concept of the EU can be slightly confusing. Despite this, the EU can be easily understood as a union, today more supranational than intergovernmental, among the member-states, for peaceful coexistence (before the EU was created, it seemed the Europeans’ favorite pastime was waging war against each other) and to instill the core values of human rights and democracy.

As Spain celebrates its 30th year of EU membership come the 1st of January 2016, it’s important to reflect on what the EU has done for Spain, as well as what Spain has done for the EU, which in broad terms are as follows:


The extenssive modernization of Spanish infrastructure has been EU-funded

The extensive modernization of Spanish infrastructure has been largely EU-funded

For Spain, joining the EU meant a number of economic benefits, including a vast number of trade opportunities. Spain has been able to successfully establish connections with other parts of the world, and reinforce its special relations with Latin America since being in the EU has made it possible to interrelate from a position of strength. Additionally, in the 30 year period following the induction of Spain into the EU (1986-2006), Spain enjoyed a GDP growth of €8,000 to €23,000. Since then, Spain’s economy has continued to grow and is now the 8th biggest in the world and a major player in Europe.

The Latin American Summit in Argentina. King Juan Carlos, then the reigning spanish monarch, s a from the left. Spanish relationship with Latin America is strengthened by Spain's membership in the EU

The 2008 Ibero-American Summit in San Salvador. King Juan Carlos, then the reigning monarch of Spain, is sixth from the left. (Spanish relationship with Latin America is strengthened by its membership in the EU.)



Primarily, joining the EU has redefined immigration for Spain, thereby dramatically affecting the population. Overall, every year Spain’s population increases and the percentage of foreign born people living in Spain increases as well.

The quality of life for Spaniards has also improved. Based on the Human Developmental Index (HDI), an indicator that measures the quality of life developed by the United Nations Developmental Program, Spain has improved extraordinarily.  The average lifespan of Spanish women is 83.7 years (the highest in Europe) and the average for men is 77.2 (the second highest).

A healthier people? Rafa Nadal, a tennis champion

Healthier people. (Rafa Nadal is a global tennis champion.)

This improvement may be due to the fact that since joining the EU, Spain’s public health system has evolved into one of Europe’s best. Currently, Spain sees a constant steady increase in the number of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals.

Joining the EU has also created an overwhelming sense of European identity for many Spaniards. Therefore, Spain has embodied and continues to embody the values outlined by EU’s goals, becoming a model for other European nations, especially in the south and the east. Over the years, Spain has legalized same-sex marriage, saw its democracy grow from strength to strength, and has achieved an admirable gender-equality representation in its government. Both the country and its people have impacted the world whether it be through politics, humanitarianism, arts, or sciences.

As Spain celebrates 30 years with the European Union, the future looks nothing less than promising.



LEANNA CARROLL eu-spain 30TH ANNIV euroscola2016

.On the occasion of Spain’s 30th year in the European Union, the Office of Information of the European Parliament in Spain, in collaboration with the European Commission Representation in Spain and the Office of the Secretary of State for European Affairs, is holding a themed online contest among Spanish high school and vocational school students ages 15  to 18 years.

Info (in Spanish):


> Featured image by, CC BY 30. it
> Brussels summit 1987 by user Ssolbergi (, CC BY-SA 3.0
> Spanish infrastructure (Castilla Highway) by Magnus Colossus (, CC BY-SA 2.5 generic
> Lope de Vega poster PD
> Ibero-American Summit 2008, courtesy of the Office of the President of Argentina, CC BY 2.0
> Rafa Nadal PD
>Spain’s 30th year in the EU poster, Fair use


Article written August 2015