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Spain: country overview

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Spain joined the EU in 1986, and developed into a dynamic and rapidly growing economy, and a global champion of freedom and human rights. The most important sectors of Spain’s economy in 2015 were wholesale and retail trade, transport, accommodation and food services (24.5 %), public administration, defence, education, human health and social work activities (18.7 %), and industry (17.0 %). Spain’s main export partners are France, Germany and the UK, while its main import partners are Germany, France and China.

Spanish flag

Capital: Madrid

Geographical size: 505 944 km2

Population: 46 449 565 (2015)

Population as % of total EU: 9.1 % (2015)

Gross domestic product (GDP): EUR 1.081 trillion (2015)

Official EU language(s): Spanish

Political system: parliamentary constitutional monarchy

EU member country since: 1 January 1986

Seats in the European Parliament: 54

Currency: Euro. Member of the eurozone since 1 January 1999

Schengen area member? Yes, Schengen Area member since 26 March 1995.

Presidency of the Council: Spain has held the revolving presidency of the Council of the EU 4 times between 1989 and 2010.

Map of SpainCountry overview

High plateaux and mountain ranges such as the Pyrenees and the Sierra Nevada dominate mainland Spain. Running from these heights are several major rivers such as the Ebro, the Duero, the Tagus and the Guadalquivir. The Balearic Islands lie offshore in the Mediterranean while the autonomous Canary Islands are to be found off the African coast.

Spain is a constitutional monarchy, with a hereditary monarch and a parliament with two chambers: the Cortes. The 1978 constitution values linguistic and cultural diversity within a united Spain. The country is divided into 17 autonomous communities (regions) which all have their own directly elected authorities. In Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, the regional languages have official status alongside the national Spanish language, which is also called Castilian.

Spain's service and manufacturing sectors are strong, while agriculture (especially fruit and vegetables, olive oil and wine) and tourism are also very profitable.

From Velázquez in the 17th century, through Goya in the 18th and 19th, to Picasso, Dali and Miro in the 20th, Spain has a rich artistic culture. Spanish Flamenco music and dance are widely admired around the world while Cervantes' novel Don Quixote is one of the landmarks of modern European literature. Spanish film directors such as Pedro Almodóvar, Alejandro Amenábar and Luis Buñuel have received several international prizes.

Spanish cuisine is known for its paella (a rice dish with chicken, seafood and vegetables), tortilla (omelette with potatoes) and sangria (red wine served with fruit).

Economy overview

After experiencing a prolonged recession in the wake of the global financial crisis that began in 2008, in 2014 Spain marked the first full year of positive economic growth in seven years, largely due to increased private consumption. At the onset of the financial crisis, Spain's GDP contracted by 3.7% in 2009, ending a 16-year growth trend, and continued contracting through most of 2013. In 2013, the government successfully shored up struggling banks - exposed to the collapse of Spain's depressed real estate and construction sectors - and in January 2014 completed an EU-funded restructuring and recapitalization program.

Until 2014, credit contraction in the private sector, fiscal austerity, and high unemployment weighed on domestic consumption and investment. The unemployment rate rose from a low of about 8% in 2007 to more than 26% in 2013, but labour reforms prompted a modest reduction to 22% in 2015. High unemployment strained Spain's public finances, as spending on social benefits increased while tax revenues fell. Spain's budget deficit peaked at 11.4% of GDP in 2010, but Spain gradually reduced the deficit to just under 7% of GDP in 2013-14, and 4.7% of GDP in 2015. Public debt has increased substantially – from 60.1% of GDP in 2010 to nearly 101% in 2015.

Exports were resilient throughout the economic downturn and helped to bring Spain's current account into surplus in 2013 for the first time since 1986, where it remained in 2014-15. Rising labour productivity and an internal devaluation resulting from moderating labor costs and lower inflation have helped to improve foreign investor interest in the economy and positive FDI flows have been restored.

The government's efforts to implement labour, pension, healthcare, tax, and education reforms - aimed at supporting investor sentiment - have become overshadowed by political activity in 2015 in anticipation of the national parliamentary elections in December. The European Commission criticized Spain's 2016 budget for its easing of austerity measures and its alleged overly optimistic growth and deficit projections. Spain's borrowing costs are dramatically lower since their peak in mid-2012, and despite the recent uptick in economic activity, inflation has dropped sharply, from 1.5% in 2013 to a negative 0.6% in 2015.

Source: Europa, CIA World Factbook

Useful links

The Commission's Representation in Spain
European Parliament office in Spain
Spanish Government
Tourist information

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