On the whole, public health is good. However, health care resources are unevenly distributed. Although the medical density is high, some diseases have not been eradicated, e.g. tuberculosis. The standard of living has risen. At the same time, the poor, who make up just under one-fifth of the population, have not become poorer or more, but poverty is high compared to the EU average. The social security system is compulsory for all workers.
Just over 70 percent of total health care costs were funded by the state in 2013, and the sector accounted for just under 9 percent of Spain’s GDP. Since the 1990s, the proportion of Spaniards with private health insurance has increased significantly.
The retirement age is 65, with the possibility of early retirement from the age of 60. In 2011, a pension reform was approved which means raising the retirement age to 67 years. The new pension system will be phased in and fully implemented by 2027. The pensions are based on a combination of total life income and the number of years worked.
The labor market in Spain has been characterized by a conflict between the relatively large proportion who have worked under uncertain terms on temporary contracts and the permanent employees who have significantly better terms of employment and whose interests have been guarded by workers’ organizations. Another problem in the Spanish labor market is the large number of illegal immigrants living in the country and working in the informal sector. At the end of the 1990s, the Spanish labor market experienced a crisis and the unemployment rate skyrocketed, from just over 8 percent in 2006 to over 24 percent in 2014. The same year, the country had a youth unemployment rate of 53 percent.
The two most important trade union movements are the CCOO (the labor commissions) and the UGT (the socialist trade unions). Both CCOO and UGT are now politically independent. Both trade unions represent only about 15 percent of the Spanish labor force. Visit AbbreviationFinder to see the definitions of ESP and acronym for Spain.
Despite the relatively recent entry of women into the labor market, they now account for almost half of the total labor force. However, unemployment is somewhat higher for women than for men.
Spain’s contemporary history
Spain’s contemporary history is the country’s history after 1975. Francisco Franco, who had ruled Spain as a fascist dictatorship since the Spanish Civil War in 1939, died on November 20, 1975, and upon his death Juan Carlos was appointed king. The fall of the dictatorship led to the gradual introduction of democracy. A new constitution was approved by a referendum in 1978. It made Spain a democratic monarchy and recognized the principle of regional autonomy.
In 1981 Spain joined NATO and in 1986 the EC (EU). Since 1978, the country has been divided into 17 autonomous regions with its own regional parliaments. The regions of Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country have special status, with their own language and other rights.
Spain has been subject to several terrorist attacks in recent decades, both from the Basque separatist group ETA and from the Islamist organizations al-Qaeda (2004) and Islamic State (2017).
Gradual introduction of democracy
Franco’s death on November 20, 1975 and the appointment of Juan Carlos as king paved the way for new forces: The new king, liberal-minded politicians and various opposition groups gradually implemented a number of democratic reforms that made Spain a different society. Political prisoners were released, the press spoke freer, the Basque linguistic rights were approved and the political left side organized. After Adolfo Suárez took over as head of government in 1976, the ban on political parties was lifted and amnesty was given to political prisoners and free elections were printed for the first time since 1936.
A new constitution was approved by a referendum in 1978. It made Spain a democratic monarchy and recognized the principle of regional autonomy. Both Catalonia and the Basque Country gained internal autonomy following referendums in 1979. Other regions followed, and Spain was divided into 17 autonomous territories.
In January 1981, Suárez resigned as prime minister following a series of local electoral defeats. In February of that year, a group of civilian guards stormed the Antonio Tejero National Assembly and held the deputies (elected officials) hostage. The Valencia military commander participated in the coup attempt. However, King Juan Carlos 1 made it clear that the coup was against his will. Tejero surrendered, and in the days that followed, several higher officers were arrested as accomplices. The king himself received a great deal of credit for the coup not spreading.
In 1981 Spain joined NATO, and in 1986 the EC (EU). The Socialist Party PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) was an opponent of NATO membership, but the party changed its mind after it came into government position from 1982. In a 1986 referendum on NATO membership, the majority voted (52.5 percent against 39.8 percent). After years of international isolation, Spain began to play an increasing role in international politics, and democratic development was a role model in Latin America, among others.
In the 1982 election, the PSOE gained a pure majority in the National Assembly and formed government under its young and popular leader Felipe González. The Social Democrats retained the majority in 1986, but lost it in the 1989 and 1993 elections. The Conservative People’s Party (PP, Partido Popular) became the largest party after the 1996 election and formed a government led by José María Aznar. The other major parties are the leftist Izquierda Unida (IU) and the Catalan nationalists (CiU, Convergència in Uniò).
Economic downturn in the 1990s
Following Spain’s accession to the EU, the economy was opened up, the industry modernized and the infrastructure improved. The upturn was reversed to decline in 1992. In the following years, the peseta was devalued four times, which led to a reduced trade balance deficit and somewhat lower inflation. Spain’s economy was mainly characterized by the high unemployment rate in the 1990s. In 1996, unemployment was 22.6 percent, the highest in the EU and twice as high as the EU average. Spain also had large government deficits and low economic growth.
In order to stabilize the economy, in 1993, the government tried to negotiate a “social pact” with the two dominant trade unions UGT and CCOO, among other things, to control wage growth and reductions in social benefits. However, the attempt failed, and in January 1994 a general strike among 10.8 million workers broke out. Later, there have been major protests against cuts in social benefits, tax increases and high unemployment.