Spain's powerful world empire of the 16th and 17th centuries ultimately yielded command of the seas to England. Subsequent failure to embrace the mercantile and industrial revolutions caused the country to fall behind Britain, France, and Germany in economic and political power. Spain remained neutral in World Wars I and II but suffered through a devastating civil war (1936-39). A peaceful transition to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco FRANCO in 1975, and rapid economic modernization (Spain joined the EU in 1986) gave Spain a dynamic and rapidly growing economy and made it a global champion of freedom and human rights. The government continues to battle the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) terrorist organization, but its major focus for the immediate future will be on measures to reverse the severe economic recession that started in mid-2008.
Southwestern Europe, bordering the Bay of Biscay, Mediterranean Sea, North Atlantic Ocean, and Pyrenees Mountains, southwest of France
Nationality: Noun--Spaniard(s). Adjective--Spanish.
Population (National Institute of Statistics (INE), January 1, 2009): 46,662,000.
Ethnic groups: Distinct ethnic groups within Spain include the Basques, Catalans, and Galicians.
Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic; Protestant and Islamic faiths also have a significant presence.
Languages: Spanish (official) 74%, Catalan-Valencian 17%, Galician 7%, Basque 2%.
Education: Years compulsory--to age 16. Literacy (INE, third quarter 2008)--97.6%.
Work force (first quarter 2009): 23.1 million. Services--66.4%; agriculture--4.2%; construction--13.1%; industry--16.3%
Total: 505,370 sq km
Country comparison to the world: 51
Land: 498,980 sq km
Water: 6,390 sq km
Note: there are two autonomous cities - Ceuta and Melilla - and 17 autonomous communities including Balearic Islands and Canary Islands, and three small Spanish possessions off the coast of Morocco - Islas Chafarinas, Penon de Alhucemas, and Penon de Velez de la Gomera
40,525,002 (July 2009 est.)
Country comparison to the world: 32
Castilian Spanish (official) 74%, Catalan 17%, Galician 7%, Basque 2%, are official regionally
Roman Catholic 94%, other 6%
Spain's mixed capitalist economy supports a GDP that on a per capita basis approaches that of the largest West European economies. However, after a decade of economic growth that exceeded the euro-zone average, the Spanish economy is in the midst of a sharp and prolonged recession, marked by swelling unemployment and a significant increase in the government budget deficit. Spain's unemployment rate rose from 11% in 2008 to almost 20% in 2009, and its fiscal balance deteriorated from a deficit of 3.8% of GDP in 2008 to over 10% of GDP in 2009, more than three times the euro-zone limit. The pace of GDP growth fell significantly. In 2009 GPD per capita is shrank 3.8% from 2008, ending a 16-year growth trend. The reversal in Spain's economic growth reflects a significant decline in the construction sector, falling consumer spending, and slumping exports. Government efforts to boost the economy through stimulus spending, tax breaks, and loan guarantees have not reduced the unemployment rate, which was one of the highest in the EU in 2009. The Socialist president, Jose Luis Rodriguez ZAPATERO, in office since 2004, has made mixed progress in carrying out key structural reforms, such as revamping Spain's construction-led economic growth model and enacting politically difficult reforms to the labor market. Spain's banking sector has been relatively insulated from the global financial crisis, due in part to conservative oversight by the Bank of Spain. Government intervention to rescue banks on the scale seen elsewhere in Europe in 2008 and 2009 was not necessary in Spain, although Spanish banks' high exposure to the collapsed domestic real estate market poses continued risks for the sector.