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 War 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. More recently Spain has emerged from a severe economic recession that began in mid-2008, posting three straight years of GDP growth above the EU average. Unemployment has fallen, but remains high especially among youth. Spain is the Eurozone’s fourth largest economy.
After experiencing a prolonged recession in the wake of the global financial crisis that began in 2008, in 2016 Spain marked the third full year of positive economic growth in nine years, largely due to increased private consumption. At the onset of the financial crisis, Spain's GDP contracted by 3.7% in 2009, ending a 16-year growth trend, and continued contracting through most of 2013. In that year, the government successfully shored up struggling banks - exposed to the collapse of Spain's depressed real estate and construction sectors - and in January 2014 completed an EU-funded restructuring and recapitalization program for its financial sector.Until 2014, credit contraction in the private sector, fiscal austerity, and high unemployment weighed on domestic consumption and investment. The unemployment rate rose from a low of about 8% in 2007 to more than 26% in 2013, but labor reforms prompted a modest reduction to 19.7% in 2016. High unemployment has strained Spain's public finances, as spending on social benefits increased while tax revenues fell. Spain’s budget deficit peaked at 11.4% of GDP in 2010, but Spain gradually reduced the deficit to about 5% of GDP in 2015, and 4.1% of GDP in 2016. Public debt has increased substantially – from 60.1% of GDP in 2010 to nearly 99.5% in 2016.Exports were resilient throughout the economic downturn and helped to bring Spain's current account into surplus in 2013 for the first time since 1986, where it remained through 2016. Rising labor productivity and an internal devaluation resulting from moderating labor costs and lower inflation have helped to improve foreign investor interest in the economy and positive FDI flows have been restored.Political gridlock after the national elections in December 2015 and June 2016 and ensuing government formation process constrained the caretaker government’s ability to implement needed labor, pension, health care, tax, and education reforms— in 2016. The European Commission criticized Spain’s 2016 budget for easing austerity measures and for its alleged overly optimistic growth and deficit projections. Spain’s borrowing costs are dramatically lower since their peak in mid-2012, and despite the recent uptick in economic activity, inflation has dropped sharply, from 1.5% in 2013 to a negative 0.3% in 2016.