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Spain is no longer a full democracy according to the ranking compiled annually by The Economist magazine, which now situates the Spanish state in the next category down: that of a flawed democracy. In a year in which many more countries fell than those that made democratic gains, the annual report of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Democracy Index highlighted Spain's slippage in particular, as it dropped below the mark of 8 points out of 10, the threshold of full democracies. The study looked at 164 countries around the world and found that more than a third of the population surveyed live under authoritarian regimes, while only 6.4% enjoy full democracy. In this elite group, Spain is longer to be found, after being relegated this year. As for the global average, it stands at 5.28 out of 10, almost a tenth of a point less than last year. To find the last decline in global democratic quality that has been this sharp, we must go back to 2010, shortly after the financial crisis.

One of the main reasons why the EIU analysts have placed Spain in the category of flawed democracy is the concerning situation of its judiciary: the paralysis of the highest judicial body, the General Council of the Judiciary has still not been broken, due to the inability of the PSOE and PP to reach agreement. This accounts for the fall in Spain's score in one of the five indicators analyzed in each country, that of judicial independence. The rest are: electoral processes and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation and political culture. With this drop, Spain has fallen two places in the world rankings, moving from 22nd to 24th. The leading country in terms of democratic quality remains Norway by a very wide margin: it records a score of 9.75 points out of 10. At the other end of the scale, the list is closed by Afghanistan, whose total fell by a huge 2.53 points in the year that the Taliban regained power, going from 2.85 to just 0.32 points.

Spain: quality in doubt

Spain's decline to a lesser democratic category is not precisely a bolt from the blue: even the EIU analysts had been warning that this could happen in previous editions, noting that the Spanish state has been scoring poorly on the justice indicator for years. Meanwhile, political scientist Jordi Mas warned that in 2021, several international organizations and associations were questioning the quality of Spanish democracy. "In the last few years, the controversial "gag" law has led to the fining or imprisonment of artists critical of state institutions, it has prosecuted those who complain or allow a parliamentary debate on the unity of the state or its monarchy, while Spanish justice's jail sentences for the Catalan politicians caused international astonishment, while contrasting with the very rapid legal processing, with a different final conclusion, of other pro-independence politicians in Belgium and Germany... ", explained Mas, adding that, in previous years there has been a "major discrepancy between what the rankings observe" - which up till now placed Spain above France or the USA in the index, "and what different sectors denounce, both outside and inside the country."

In this regard, the political scientist also asserted that instruments to influence the rankings exist: the bodies that create indices like the EIU's can be lobbied directly to achieve a higher score. One of the most common approaches used in so-called "ratings diplomacy" is for state diplomatic delegations to visit the headquarters where the rankings are made. "A falling score may create problems for some countries," Mas reflected. In the 2020 ranking, the political scientist himself warned of as many as three errors in Spain's score, but he received no explanations. Mas has also referred to discrepancies in the calculations of the V-Dem index, which is also focused on assessing democratic quality. In this case, Spain's score varied significantly between its 2019 and 2020 versions: the 2019 version suggested a clear democratic decline, reaching "pre-constitutional" levels. The following year, it was gone.

Restrictions due to the pandemic

Spain stands out, along with Chile, as a country that has slipped out of the full democracy category this year, but there has also been a broader decline in the 2021 rankings, with the global average falling to the lowest level since the annual study began in 2006: overall, a 0.09 fall, to 5.28 out of 10. This decline is comparable to that of 2010, not long after the Wall Street financial crisis, when inequality grew exponentially. So what happened this year? Researchers attribute this general loss of democratic quality to the exceptional measures taken to combat the pandemic. Joan Hoey, regional director of the study in Europe, spoke of the "expansion of state power."

The country that has lost the most points in Western Europe has not been Spain (0.18), but the United Kingdom, which has fallen more than twice as much (0.44). However, it remains above 8 and therefore continues to be classed as a full democracy. In the British case, The Economist points to the controversies generated around party funding, as well as the political scandals that have come to light in recent weeks, centred on prime minister Boris Johnson and his cabinet. These "have undermined confidence in the British government".