With Spain under international pressure to clamp down and introduce a harsh deficit reduction plan, amidst a quivering banking sector, one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU at 23 per cent, and youth unemployment at almost 50 per cent, the macro economic data suggests a country ready for a radical cultural transformation across society.
The slowdown in Spain is felt in households across the country; the extent of past protests and the general strike in March 2012 reflect broad discontent. Is this discontent a driver of a new vision for Spain? Can Spain build a sustainable future that is inclusive of the needs of society, the economy, and the environment?
From a broad perspective, family networks provide a temporary cushion for the youth of Spain, and cash-in-hand for work done substitutes formal employment, enabling people to battle along hoping for better times. In the long-run, this is unsustainable, and providing opportunities for individuals is key.
The recently elected Peoples' Party’s (Partido Popular) new labour laws – similar to those in Italy, which provoked mass protests in March – seek to support employment by providing flexibility in the market. There are, however, mixed feelings about the outcome of the new labour law that allows companies to make workers redundant more easily and cheaply, but also enables companies to introduce more flexible working hours and conditions.
As a standalone policy this is unlikely to boost employment given underlying systemic causes. The need to widen the opportunities beyond the building and tourism sector are now clear for all to see. These key employment sectors have been marred by corruption and widespread speculation in the property market that has helped to undermine them.
A sector that has been growing in Spain is renewable energy. An area with a demand for workers and one that provides the fuel to sustain the needs of the country now and in the future. Nevertheless, Spain's leading renewable energy industry suffered a serious setback. Spain's wind turbine and photovoltaic industry has been impaired as the government has pushed forth a Royal Decree indefinitely halting all subsidies for new renewable energy projects after the current inscription runs out in 2013 – the Canary Islands exempted.
Dancing amongst such ills are flamenco dancers stepping in and spreading happenings in protest to the current system as they dance in the lobbies of banks. These protests are peaceful, imaginative and are powerful in their imagery and the message that they send is a stand against convention and business as usual.
In support of a future vision Spain offers in the midst of a crisis another dance, one in which different partners congregate together to improve the quality of life with the aid of information technology as a tool. Innovative opportunities exist for sustainability in the interaction and cooperation of different players; these include citizens, business, institutions, and government bodies.
Barcelona offers a vision of a smart city model; a desire to engage different actors in order to modernize for example their energy, transport and health care systems. One interesting early pilot project is the smart city initiative in one of the outlying towns of Barcelona called Sant Cugat. Information and communications technology is being used to reduce the environmental footprint for the city and is also helping to reduce costs (watch video below). The town is experimenting with charging stations for electric vehicles, sensors on recycling bins and recycling collectors, water sensors in parks to minimise water consumption, sensors in parking areas to show where there is empty parking (minimizing driving time and emissions), and sensors on streetlights that detect movement and adjust the amount of light.
This is one example in Europe that provides innovative means to serve the needs of citizens, the environment and the economy. This is just one vision of how working together with citizens, industry and institutions can provide change. Many more opportunities and visions are available and needed, as many as there are dances to dance and partners with whom to step along.