Spain, which in the sixteenth century was the most powerful nation in Europe, has had an ambivalent relationship with her neighbours since at least the middle of the eighteenth century. On the one hand, progressive intellectual élites thought of social and political modernization as "catching up" with Europe, but on the other, these same élites, together with their more conservative compatriots, viewed external influences, particularly from France, as threatening Spain's cultural and, especially, religious distinctiveness. In the present century, this ambivalence persisted throughout and beyond the Franco regime. The support which Italy and Germany had given to Franco during the Civil War encouraged the dictator to believe that Spain would in due course join a club of powerful militaristic nations which would create a new European order, but his enthusiasm for this idea cooled when the tide of WWII turned in favour of the Allies. In the 1940s, the western democracies remained aloof from Spain because of Franco's support of the Axis powers during WWII: Spain was not, for example, admitted to the United Nations until 1955. Francoist rhetoric fostered the notion that this isolation was a mark of Spain's moral superiority to what were described as the decadent and corrupt democracies.
   Simultaneously, however, the regime made sedulous efforts to ingratiate itself with the international community, and commercial and other links with Europe were cultivated, especially after the Stabilization Plan, which opened Spain to foreign investment. The increasing prosperity of the 1960s, together with more frequent contacts with the rest of Europe stemming from migration of workers and tourism, encouraged awareness among both the political élites and the populace at large of the benefits of membership of the European Economic Communities (see also European Union), which led to Spain's first application for membership in 1962. Accession to the EEC was, however, precluded by the absence of a democratic system in Spain until after the death of Franco in 1975. Even after this date, negotiations were difficult and protracted, and Spain did not finally join until 1986. Independently of the economic arguments for European Community membership, however, attitudes towards European integration among the populace at large have been very positive for at least the last twenty-five years. This has been intensified under successive PSOE governments, who have consistently emphasized Spain's destiny in Europe, at the expense of the close ties with the US fostered by Franco. This emerged clearly in 1986 in the referendum on membership of NATO, when government propaganda gave preeminent importance to solidarity with European partners, largely glossing over the reality of American leadership of the alliance. On a day-to-day basis, visitors to Spain can see ample evidence of assimilation to general European patterns in such matters as quality of main roads, transport, cost of living, availability of consumer goods, architecture and fashion.
   Further reading
   - Heywood, P. (1995) The Government and Politics of Spain, London: Macmillan (chapter 12 is an admirably lucid account of the effects of EU membership).
   - Newton, M.T. with Donaghy, P.J. (1997) Institutions of Modern Spain: A Political and Economic Guide, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (chapter 15 is an indispensable overview of the relations between Spain and the EU).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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