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Governing for unruly Spaniards

It is impossible to present a plan in this country without some backlash of outlandish criticism.


The other night I was listening to a journalist speak during a television panel debate about the government’s proposal that goes into effect on Monday to reduce the speed limit on highways from 120 kph to 110 kph. She complained that she had grown tired with Prime Minister Zapatero’s paternalistic government telling her what she can or cannot do. It reminded me of former Prime Minister José María Aznar’s similar gripe a few years back when the Health Ministry decided to order a popular US fast food chain to pull a calorie-filled, multi-layer burger for nutritional reasons. Aznar said that if he wanted to eat a burger high in fat and carbohydrates he should be able to do so without anyone telling him that he could not. As whacky or confusing as some laws may be, governments must enforce the rules and the citizens are obliged to obey them.

The jury is still out in my courtroom as to where this new speed limit law is going. Last Friday, the Cabinet decided to lower the maximum limit on highways as well as order a five percent reduction in fares on all Renfe short- and middle-distance commuter trains in a bold effort to reduce energy consumption. The measures were announced as the nation prepares to deal with the impact from the soaring cost in oil prices fueled by the unrest in Libya . Drivers’ associations say reducing the speed limit could cause more accidents on highways – another argument that I am not sure I understand. The Popular Party was quick to point out that the last person to change the speed limits was Franco during the Arab oil crisis of the 1970s. Other critics believe that the reduction is nothing more but a secret strategy for the government to generate more money by increasing traffic fines. It is difficult to understand how driving 10 kph less will save energy but apparently the Cabinet has on staff technicians who study these things.

Gasoline and diesel fuel prices in Spain are among the lowest in Europe — in France, taxes make up 70 percent of what you pay at the pump — but at the same time motorists here are some of the most abusive compared to the rest of the continent. When comparing the numbers of road fatalities, Spain ranks the fifth highest among European Union members. (Although fatalities are down from 8,837 in 1991 to 4,442 in 2005, according to a European Commission report issued in 2007.) Germany, with no limits on its highways, ranks first in the number of motor vehicle deaths. Driving slower may not save as much as €1.5 billion in oil exports, as the government stresses, but it will save lives.

If the Socialist administration really wants Spaniards to cutback on fuel consumption it should take even bolder steps such as hiking taxes on fuel and on the purchase of new vehicles (something it won’t do because it would mean that the beleaguered car dealerships will take more beatings); push to convince communities such as Madrid and Barcelona to begin charging fees for motorists entering the city; and educate citizens about the need to use environmentally friendly public transport systems.

Spaniards love their vehicles and it is going to take a lot of effort, and laws, to convince them not to take them out of the garage regularly. Many, of course, believe that such measures should not apply to them and will continue to carrying on in a rebellious mode. When people act like children, then maybe it is time that the government needs to step in and act like a parent.

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Published: Mar 4 2011
Category: Iberoblog
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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2 Comments for “Governing for unruly Spaniards”

  1. I be Espanish and I thankful that government de ZP protect me and tell me what I can and can not to do. I no eat hamburgers from BK, I no drive mi car, I no smoke, I no see bull fights, I no wear tie in summer and no air-conditioning.
    I was unruly Spaniard, now I good Spaniard.
    Thank you ZP.

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