We define Southern Europe as Spain, Italy and Greece. These three countries have in common to be relatively young democracies, built on the remains of authoritarian regimes after WW2. They also share a long track record as Mediterranean powers. Can we nevertheless say that the quality of democracy in Southern Europe is poor? Although they have a recent history of political crisis and instability, sometimes aggravated by corruption issues, Spain, Italy and Greece have shown democratic resilience throughout their troubled recent history, helped by their European engagement.
This should hopefully help their regimes to face the challenges of the future. First of all, we can agree that the quality of democracy is poor in Southern Europe because of their weaknesses: they are young democracies, which have a history of political crisis and instability. Furthermore, the worst flaw of these democracies is also their worst enemy: the corruption that eats away their administrations. At the aftermath of World War II, “the new democracies of Southern Europe, Italy, Spain and Greece, are generally seen as conforming to the western European model of liberal democracy.
But the process of democratization is a gradual one, and each national democracy is moulded by its own political, social, and economic characteristics”1. The Italian political landscape after the War was suffering from a physical destruction, a widespread poverty and a political vacuum. In 1946, Italian politicians “in their attempt to legitimize the post-war republic, claimed that it was democratic and that it was born of the Resistance, the anti-fascist struggle against the Mussolini regime”.
2 Italy became a Republic after a referendum held in June, which was the first free election since 25 years. After that a new Constitution, known as “The Republican Constitution”, came into force on 1st January 1948 and was a compromise document agreed by all political parties. The features of post-War political system in Italy after the instalment of the first Italian Republic were a considerable modernisation of the Italian society and a rapid economic growth, but not only. It was also the settlement of a governmental instability.
According to Hines, in Italy “the transition phase, from Fascism to republican democracy, was fairly rapid, lasting roughly from 1943 to 1948″3, whereas in the cases of Spain and Greece, the consolidation of democracy took more time. The consolidation of democracy was negotiated in Spain after Franco’s natural death, in 20th November 1975. His death constituted the beginning of the democratizing process and a smooth transition to democracy compared to the violence and the trauma of the Civil War.
Even if “Franco’s demise on 1975 is usually seen as the dividing line between what has been called la larga noche de la dictadura and the new democratic dawn”4, it would be “extremely simplistic to interpret the death of a single man as the cause of such a large-scale change”5. But, according to Malefakis “because of the deterioration of conditions, the future of democracy in Spain is unclear, although Spain successfully negotiated the difficult passage to full democracy, disintegration began when this achievement was embodied in the Constitution”6.
In the Spanish case, “the transition to democracy has proved to be only part of a much larger problem, the question of whether democracy can survive”. 7 A military dictatorship was settled in Greece to avoid Greece to become a communism country after the Second World War. It was called the “Regime of the Colonels” which refers to a series of right-wing military governments that ruled Greece until 1974. Psomiades explains it: “after the regime’s fall, it was agreed that a government should be formed with a wide base of public support.
As soon as the Karamanlis government took office it initiated a series of decrees aimed at liquidating the disastrous programs of the dictatorship and setting Greece on the road to democracy”. 8 Furthermore, these three countries have a history of political crisis and instability. Spain has had to wrestle with the ghosts of its history: the far-right generals attempting to kill the young democracy in the egg when the army generals seeking to regain influence after Franco’s death with the coup in the Cortes on February 23, 1981.