Benign Neglect, and Specialized Knowledge


Spanish intellectuals (in the words of Collini 2006: 47, those possessing some kind of ‘cultural authority’, that is who deploy an acknowledged intellectual position or achievement in addressing a broader, non‐specialized public) have been very actively involved in various political issues and topics on the Spanish agenda. Intellectuals were highly engaged in debates during the transition and beyond on issues such as terrorism (with leaders such as philosopher Fernando Savater acting as mobilizers of civil society); nationalism (on which intellectuals have followed the same polarized pattern as public opinion and political parties); or, more recently, in debates on the politics of memory and transitional justice. Moreover, there are cases of intense intellectual mobilization, for example the public position adopted in relation to the Iraq war in 2003.

In contrast, however, intellectuals have shown a relative lack of concern, or a benign neglect, towards the EU and European integration. The reasons for this attitude are to be found in the Spanish historical trajectory since 1898 and the place that Europe has played in the collective imaginary. As a result of the struggle for democratization and the almost automatic link between this and Europe, the latter occupied an almost totally uncontroversial position; hence, public intellectuals did not show much interest in debating it. This provoked a vacuum which more specialized intellectuals (i.e. academics) tried to fill in. (p.204) However, the more technical character of their approach meant that they came to the forefront only when a large and significant issue (such as treaties) was on the line. In this situation, and equipped with their expertise, they provided a more technical and specialized discussion whose effect has probably been that the general broader public has remained aloof from them. The third section below includes two brief case studies (the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty and the debate around the European Constitution) which aim to illustrate both propositions. Given the restricted amount of categorical information that is available on these events, the chronological scope of the analysis will be broadened in order to include any academic contribution with relevant normative implications. Finally, the conclusions describe the normative framework that emerges from the study, and speculate on the possible specificity of Spanish academia in the area of EU studies.

The historical evolution of Spanish intellectual debates on Europe: The sources of consensus

The roots of contemporary Spanish intellectual debate on Europe date back to the last years of the nineteenth century. Following the loss of Spain’s last colonial possessions and the subsequent crisis of national identity, a group of intellectuals (the ‘Generation of 98’) examined the existing political, cultural, and economic deficiencies of the state and sought to provide solutions. Two contrasting perspectives on Spain’s position in the international milieu emerged, and these approaches permeated Spanish stances towards Europe throughout much of the twentieth century (Closa and Heywood 2004: 6).1 On the one hand was an ‘introspective’ view, promoted by thinkers such as Miguel de Unamuno who underlined the country’s distinctive values and principles, and advocated its protection from external influences. Europe, in this view, was ‘othered’. On the other hand, there existed a ‘Europeanist’ perspective, which perceived European values and principles as the best solutions to Spanish problems, its main proponents being the economist Joaquín Costa and the philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. The first coined the word ‘Europeanization’ in 1900, and the word transformed Europe into the symbol of the agenda of reform and modernization of the country (Costa 1981). Ortega, meanwhile, theorized the idea that ‘Spain is only feasible if viewed from Europe’ (Ortega y Gasset 1910). Rather than a call for a federal Europe, the motto meant that the country would be strengthened through a more determined incorporation into the European arena. Europe, in this view, was invented or aspired to.

(p.205) To some extent, the history of Spain during the twentieth century can be portrayed as the struggle between these two opposed tendencies. The instauration of Franco’s dictatorship in 1939 meant not only the consolidation of the introspective view; it also practically erased any discussion about the place of the country in Europe. From a political perspective, both the authoritarian character of the new regime and the non‐participation of Spain in the two world wars (as well as in post‐war reconstruction) helped to reinforce the political seclusion of the country from European states.2 Indeed, Spain’s relationship with Europe has to be comprehended in the framework of its isolation from the original institutional development of the European project (Closa and Heywood 2004: 7). Francoism produced its own view of Europe by means of its organic intellectuals: a Christian continent corrupted by the excesses of democracy and political parties, and threatened by Soviet communism.

Nonetheless, the power of a Europe imagined or aspired to did not fade, and opposing intellectuals articulated an alternative view of Europe to the official one. With the start of economic recovery and development in the early 1960s, a group of individuals gathered in a collective volume entitled Libertad y organización (Freedom and Organization)3 to endorse the thesis synthesized by philosopher José Luis López Aranguren in the introduction: the legal and political need for Spain to adapt to a transforming society and culture. The model for this transformation was Europe. However, the 1960s also saw the appearance of tendencies favouring non‐alignment and even third‐worldism as an alternative to Europeanism, moving in parallel with contemporary issues of decolonization and third world revolution. This position was articulated by writer Juan Goytisolo in the French journal Les Temps Modernes. Goytisolo proposed the Africanization of Spain: ‘nowadays, our views must turn towards Cuba and the peoples of America, Africa and Asia that fight for their independence and freedom. Europe symbolises the past, immobilism. It is time to Africanise’ (Goytisolo 1962). This minority position influenced some positioning alongside non‐aligned countries until Spanish accession to Western European organizations.

In parallel with these internal debates, Spanish intellectuals in exile (together with some internal ones) played an important role as mobilizers of Europe and the nascent European Communities against Francoism. Led by writer and diplomat Salvador de Madariaga (founder of the College of Europe), they gathered in Munich in June 1962 at the fourth Congress of the European (p.206) Movement.4 Communist intellectuals were not invited and radical leftists did not attend; centre‐right intellectuals therefore dominated. The Congress approved a resolution stating that European integration required participating countries to have democratic institutions and respect human rights. These intellectuals, some of whom would reappear as key figures and politicians during the transition to democracy, were imprisoned and confined in internal exile upon their return to Spain. However, the Congress (known among Francoist circles as the Contubernio de Munich) successfully convinced the EP and EU member states to reject the Franco regime’s application for the status of associated member. In 1963, the EP approved the Birkelback report which, albeit without explicitly mentioning Spain, nevertheless established the democratic requirement for associated membership status.

This result firmly re‐established the old perception that mechanically linked Europe and modernization, but now the link was enriched with additional meanings: democratization and respect for political pluralism and human rights. In parallel, the US support for the Franco regime provided a negative referent or antagonism to the idea of Europe in a way seldom seen in post‐Second World War European countries (although the traditional anti‐Americanism of sectors of the Spanish left progressively faded away to become a marginal feature of radical left positions). These two ideas provided a basic consensus which public opinion and intellectuals largely shared. In 1974, lawyer and philosopher Elías Díaz summarized the consensus: the incorporation of Spain in Europe is nowadays accepted as a positive fact supported by a large consensus including the most progressive tendencies and positions, even if they propose a profound transformation of European capitalist systems. Only the most reactionary tendencies are nowadays coherently anti‐European (Díaz 1974).

The transition to democracy sanctioned this basic consensus among elites about the relevance of Europe for the political and economic development of Spain.5 Specifically, Europe represented not only the possibility of improving the country’s dire economic situation, but also the opportunity of putting an end to Spanish international (political) isolation through democratic ‘anchorage’ (Álvarez Miranda 1996; Closa and Heywood2004; Morata 1998). The rigorous Community application of the democratic clause (in contrast with other international organizations) reinforced this ‘homologating strength’ of Europe (Powell 2007: 52). The diffusion of this attitude signified to a certain extent the return to the idea of ‘Europe as solution’ that had been formulated at (p.207) the beginning of the century. The democratization approach pervaded most subsequent (early) academic evaluations of Spanish membership to the EC/EU, which emphasized the characterization of Europe as an anchor for democratic consolidation (Barbé 1999; Ortega 1994).6

In fact, it can be argued that this view has eliminated the ‘national/exceptional’ approach in Spanish debates on Europe. Some scholars even assert that this might represent the end of the dialectic tension that has defined Spain–Europe relations in the twentieth century (Moreno Juste 2000). This absence contrasts with the vigorous involvement of public intellectuals in other issues of the contemporary Spanish political agenda, such as the Spanish autonomist state or the question of peripheral regionalisms;7 some positions and episodes of Spanish foreign policy (e.g. participation in the invasion of Iraq in 2003); and, more recently, the heated debates on the politics of memory on the civil war, the Franco regime, and transitional justice measures. The ‘European’ theme appears only episodically in the public debate of intellectuals; moreover, those involved tend to be specialized academics rather than figures who could properly be considered as the most representative public intellectuals.

The academic configuration of Spanish intellectual contributions on Europe

One of the effects of the underlying consensus on Europe, European integration, and the EU among Spanish intellectuals is their absence from public debates. An additional effect relates to the kinds of issues discussed (or not): perhaps as a reaction to former ‘essentialist’ conceptions held by the Franco regime, cultural, religious, and spiritual approaches have not significantly defined debates. Thus, for instance, the issue of Turkish membership was not approached as a cultural/religious question.

In turn, specialized intellectuals from specific epistemic communities, i.e. those who have a professional interest in European integration, have filled this vacuum. Contrary to what could be expected, political scientists, philosophers, and even economists have not taken the central stage. It is public lawyers who have in fact played the most significant role, with the effect that discussions on the EU have turned into an arcane reserve of specialists. This, together with the underlying consensus, has arguably done a great deal to alienate public opinion from EU affairs. The prevailing presence of law in public discourse in turn derives from the traditional legal ‘technification’ policy processes in Spain.

(p.208) The overall strength, expertise, and solid ‘corporatist‐networking’ organization of legal scholars have favoured their predominant position in the study of EU affairs. Additionally, by speaking in legal terms even in public discourses, lawyers have been successful in fencing off other scholars, reinforcing the traditional reticence of the Spanish legal community towards interdisciplinary work (Closa 2005: 86). Finally, the late arrival of political scientists to EU studies has also contributed to the pre‐eminence of lawyers in European integration debates. This scenario can be attributed to the evolution of Spanish ‘modern’ political science, since the Francoist regime severely limited its development (Vallés 1989). Indeed, the advent of democracy opened favourable perspectives for a ‘normalization’ of political studies (Jerez Mir 1999: 75). However, despite Spanish application for EC membership in 1977, scholars were mainly concerned with issues that had a direct impact on the political situation of the country. Consequently, they devoted most of their research to topics such as the political transition to democracy, the electoral system and electoral behaviour, or the political and administrative decentralization of the state (Pasquier and León 2001: 1053).

Other institutional factors, such as the lack of alternative platforms to universities, also explain the dominance of the legal perspective. Similarly to the German case (see Jan‐Werner Müller’s contribution in this volume), legal scholars also had a significant presence in the written press. Only at the beginning of the 2000s did the emergence of some think tanks provide alternative platforms both in terms of discourses and channels. In particular, the Real Instituto Elcano, created in 2001, stimulated a broader interdisciplinary discussion on EU affairs. But even so, themes and issues continued to be predominantly framed and defined as ‘technically legal’ ones; only circumstantial events, such as EP elections for instance, provide further opportunities for press discussion.8

These structural characteristics have framed intellectual debates. The evolution of debates has been contingent to the topics analysed by scholars. This has been especially the case in the discussions about the Constitutional Treaty, when lawyers primarily used notions generated in the domain of EU law such as Joseph Weiler’s principle of ‘constitutional tolerance’ (Weiler 2003a). According to this view, the EU should be conceived as a structure of law that respects the legal systems of its constituent parts, that is, the member states. This conception would fit to a certain extent within the historical ‘Europeanist’ approach mentioned above: the enhancement of Spanish democracy through the imposition of a European constitutional discipline. However, this view (p.209) constitutes neither the sole nor the predominant theoretical approach in Spanish analysis of EU affairs. The study of the contributions made during recent ‘critical moments’ of European integration reveals how certain intellectuals have remained sceptical about the possibility of perfecting national democracies through supranational law.