Spain has another Socialist-led minority coalition government, 17 weeks after the snap and inconclusive elections on 23 July, and one that continues to rely for parliamentary support on Basque and Catalan separatists and other parties. It took office at a time when public trust in the country’s political parties was worryingly low and the quality of the democracy gave cause for concern.

The government faces a host of challenges, most of them not new but with an added urgency. Six years after the illegal and failed Catalan independence referendum, the movement for secession has ebbed significantly, but the two pro-independence parties are far from relenting. Their price for supporting the government was a hugely controversial amnesty for those involved in the referendum.

The economy, which plummeted 11.2% in 2020, the steepest fall in the euro zone, has recovered its pre-pandemic level and is rebounding. Unemployment is below 12%, the lowest rate since 2008, but productivity growth is sluggish and the high public debt and structural budget deficit make Spain vulnerable to external shocks. Despite reforms, doubts remain on the sustainability of the pensions system in a country with a fast-ageing population.

In education, the early school-leaving rate has come down significantly but at 13.9% is still well above the EU average, while the share of secondary school students who repeat a grade also remains high.

Much progress has been made in gender equality, but domestic violence remains a problem.

Spain has successfully absorbed more than 7 million immigrants over the past 30 years, without whom the population would have shrunk. Few, if any, however, play a notable role in public life. Muslims still encounter obstacles to the practice of their religion on a range of fronts.

The divide between young adults and the elderly is too deep: while pensioners are relatively well looked after, 28% of the workforce under the age of 25 is jobless and they are forced to live with their parents for much longer than most other EU countries.

Spain is quite advanced in the use of renewable energy, but is lagging in the rollout of electric vehicles and charging points. The country has been hit hard by climate change, with sweltering temperatures, sometimes followed by torrential rain. A prolonged drought lowered the level of reservoirs with water for drinking and agriculture to 32.2% of their capacity in November, way down on the 10-year average of 44.4%.

The impact on the vital tourism industry could be substantial. Lastly, in foreign policy Spain has shown unswerving support for Ukraine and is strongly involved in European Defence Fund projects. Thorny problems remain, however, including agreeing a post-Brexit agreement for the UK overseas territory of Gibraltar, claimed by Spain, and patching up relations with Algeria.

Image: Pavilion of the Council of Ministers in the Moncloa Complex, Madrid. Photo: Yeray Díaz Zbida from Melilla, España (Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0).