Opinion: Latin Lessons; Stagnating France and Italy Could Do Worse Than to Learn a Little Spanish

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Byline: Denis Macshane (MacShane, a Labour M.P., was British minister of Europe until 2005.)

Se habla espanol? The question answers itself in more and more American cities. By contrast, Spain's two biggest neighbors, France and Italy, hardly know Spain exists.

I first visited Spain a few years before Franco died. It reeked of antimodernity: unreadable newspapers, dull books, oppressive architecture and the swish of cassocks in the streets, a clericalism untainted by the reforms of Pope John XXIII. Today Spanish cities are among the most vibrant on the Continent. Films, new art galleries and economic vigor (not to mention Europe's favorite store, Zara) make Spain zing. Contrast that with neighboring Italy and France, mired in the status quo.

What explains the difference? Almost alone in Europe, Spain has embraced globalization--and in so doing escaped the paralyzing dialectic of right versus left. Beginning in 1986, when Spain joined the EU, successive prime ministers built on the achievements of their predecessors. The socialist Felipe GonzAlez rejected the classic left-statism of his French comrades and welcomed private investors while joining NATO. Jose Maria Aznar, although a rightist, avoided Thatcherite excesses and maintained cordial relations with labor unions. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero upset George W. Bush with his retreat from Iraq but has maintained one of Europe's most dynamic, open and growing economies by accepting Aznar's successes.

More and more in Europe, the left's response to globalization has been economic protectionism, putting barriers in the way of capital seeking the best worldwide return. …