10/01/2012 11:36 am ET Updated Dec 01, 2012

Spain Needs a Democratic Bailout

We didn't need a crowd surrounding the Congress to know that something was wrong with Spanish democracy. But alarms are now ringing. While conservative Mariano Rajoy's Government is biding its time to ask for a full economic bailout, the health of our democratic system is eroding by the day.

Democracy, as any other political system, can eventually collapse under a certain level of tension. Indeed, the Euro crisis, once only a debt crisis, has evolved into a life or death test for our system. But, what are the symptoms of the patient?

Following the distinction proposed by the great sociologist Max Weber, Rajoy's Government has a clear "legitimacy of origin" to carry out its policies: his landslide electoral victory in November last year. However, he increasingly lacks "legitimacy in exercise," as his persistent policies of spending cuts and tax increases are not only very unpopular, but were also explicitly ruled out in his party electoral program.

Mr. Rajoy has justified these decisions on the grounds of a very difficult economic situation. He once claimed in an interview: "I will do whatever it takes... even if I don't like it and even if I said I wouldn't do it." It becomes ever more clear that the Spanish Government has little control over the national drama.

Spaniards were not surprised when, some months ago, the leaders of the Spanish Trade Unions traveled to Berlin to brief German chancellor Angela Merkel on our social efforts. They simply tried to speak out to our de facto leaders without our Spanish interlocutors.

It is now common to spend our days in Spain waiting for providential decisions taken by leaders who, in some cases, have been chosen by other Europeans (Germans in the case of Merkel) or others who simply have not even been elected (Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank). Yet, in their protests, hopeless citizens can only reach the members of the Spanish Congress, elected by them, but not in command.

Draghi's recent announcement to buy unlimited sovereign bonds of Southern Eurozone countries brought some market relief, yet it also raised some basic democratic concerns. Why do we elect our own politicians if our future is dictated by unaccountable outsiders? If Rajoy accepts that he cannot adopt his own policies, how does he expect citizens to have faith in our democratic system?

These are general democratic problems shared by other Southern European countries. But there are also other genuinely Spanish elements that explain our democratic decay. For a good reason the "indignados" movement was born in Madrid.

Corruption has dramatically forced a divorce between citizens and political parties, and these are widely seen as one of Spain's biggest problems. The burst of the construction bubble has exposed the compromising links between politicians and the financial sector, with the "Cajas," the semi-public regional banks, at its core.

Before it becomes too late, the main parties must investigate the scandals, but their interest is limited. The dilemma they face is not an easy one: to save the institution's credibility they must shed some light, but doing so will expose their responsibilities. Nevertheless, their current strategy of looking away is the worst possible, as they are seen as a key component of a sinking system.

The costs of saving the euro and keeping Spain within the club are too high, both in social and democratic terms. We may succeed but, should we follow this path, we may be leaving democracy behind.