An upright Englishman, some years after marrying into a Spanish family, finally breaks his cardinal rule. In a moment of sudden daring at an extended family lunch, he challenges the totem of the Spanish renaissance: the Euro. The stunned silence that follows this blasphemy is filled by one of his in-laws: ‘Aha! Just what I expected… I know exactly what you are… You’re an euroescéptico!’ ‘Eh-oo-ro-es-THEP-ti-co’, she repeats slowly, each of the seven syllables a hammer blow to the poor Englishman’s standing.
As this scene from the novel Spanish Practices suggests, the Spanish people’s faith in the European Union is often as blind as it is widespread – not a breath of criticism is permitted. In the referendum held in 2005, a massive 76 per cent of voters approved the treaty establishing a European constitution – although it then had to be replaced by the Treaty of Lisbon when voters in France and the Netherlands rejected it. Meanwhile school textbooks in Spain portray the EU as an unquestionably good thing.
Unsurprisingly, many Spaniards regard Brexit as a sort of national suicide. Its inevitable aftermath, the mainstream media likes to suggest, is an ever deeper economic and social crisis. When the topic comes up, my Spanish friends nod sadly to show their sympathy with my suffering and then tactfully change the subject.
In many ways this devotion to the EU is understandable. Auden described Spain as ‘crudely soldered on to Europe’ and that sense of not really belonging grew during the long decades of General Franco’s military dictatorship. When the longed-for membership of the European Economic Community arrived in 1986, Spaniards felt as if their country had, at long last, been accepted as a modern European democracy. Now no one would be able to say that ‘Africa begins at the Pyrenees.