Still recovering from the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis, Spain was one of the first EU countries to be hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. By 1 December 2021, Spain had reported 5.15 millions of confirmed Covid-19 cases (110,475 cases per million people) and 88,008 confirmed Covid-19 deaths (1,883 deaths per million people). From Spring 2021 onwards, the number of new infections and the seriousness of their consequences considerably dropped as a consequence of the growing share of vaccinated people, which by 1 December 2021 remains one of the highest worldwide (with 80.5 per cent of the population having been fully vaccinated against Covid-19).
The Spanish response to the pandemic has involved a repeated and experimental use of the so-called ‘state of alarm’ (the softest of the three states of emergency envisaged by the Spanish Constitution), an overwhelming prominence of executive rule-making powers in dealing with the pandemic (with a significatly lower protagonism of the Parliament), and a very intense use of soft law instruments to steer the conduct of the public. Ever since May 2021, public health restrictions have been considerably eased and the focus of public action has increasingly shifted to social and economic recovery from the crisis.
A quasi-federal state, Spain has a unique model of decentralization known as ‘Autonomic State’ [Estado Autonómico], made up of 17 Autonomous Communities (ACs) which have most powers in the area of health legislation and enforcement, while the State retains a basic legislative competence (enabling it to set a minimum level of rules for the whole country) as well as the responsibility for certain strategic areas and the overall coordination of the health system. This framework of distribution of competences has been subject to severe tensions over the last few months, with coordination mechanisms proving ineffective at some points and the rise in some ACs of measures more focused on partisan politics than on effectively combating the crises caused by the pandemic.
Deeply rooted in the coordination and support measures adopted by the EU, the Spanish response to the Covid-19 crisis keeps on evolving in a growing scenario of political fragmentation, under the leadership of the first-ever Government of coalition at the State level, made up of two (left-wing) political parties which do not jointly attain majority in the Congress of Deputies, since they obtained the confidence of the Chamber with the support of other minoritarian political groups.