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Infrastructure and the Political Economy of Nation Building in Spain, 1720–2010


Germà Bel is professor of Economics at Universitat de Barcelona, and guest professor at Barcelona Graduate School of Economics. Has been visiting professor at Cornell University, and visiting researcher at Harvard and at European University Institute; and has published several books and more than fifty international academic articles on public sector reform. (

This book sets out to explain the very particular characteristics of Spanish infrastructure policy. The capital city of Madrid plays a central role. It not only achieved the status of economic capital of Spain in recent decades but together with its status as administrative and political capital Madrid endowed itself as absolute capital. The challenge is to understand why such development has taken place.

First: radial policies in transport infrastructure, which were primarily subordinate to political and administrative objectives, could not be supported by the dynamics of economic activity. For that reason these policies demanded the use of extensive budgetary resources in the form of subsidies and grants that made possible what legislation alone could not achieve. Second: these policies respond to a regular and continuing historical pattern in Spanish politics, which began with the accession to the Spanish Crown of the Bourbon dynasty in the early eighteenth century. The new dynasty tried hard to translate into practice the vision of building a Nation like France, with a Capital like Paris. Third: the enduring strength of this historical pattern allows us to understand why infrastructural policies in Spain today are so unique and different from those of surrounding and comparable countries.

Originally published to great acclaim in Spanish and Catalan, Prof. Bel places the historical perspective in contemporary viewpoint in discussing the Spanish enthusiasm for high-speed railway, with the prospect of Madrid being connected with all provincial capitals, albeit while freight by train has been neglected; a fully centralized model of airport management that is unmatched among comparable countries; and a mixed (toll and toll-free motorways) and highly asymmetric territorial highway funding model for motorways.

Published in association with the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-507-6
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $69.95
Release Date: March 2012
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-532-8
Paperback Price: £22.50 / $37.952
Release Date: August 2012
Page Extent / Format: 240 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes



Chapter One: A Madrid Like Paris?

Chapter Two. From Administrative Capital to Political Capital

Chapter Three: Transversal Market, Radial State (I): The First Railways

Chapter 4: Transversal Market, Radial State (II): The First Motorways

Chapter 5. The New Spain (I): Railway Modernization Starting from Kilometre Zero

Chapter 6. The New Spain (II): Airport Management from Kilometre Zero

Epilogue: And Now, A Spain Like France?



If anybody is interested in a critique of HST [High Speed Travel] and infrastructures in general and can read Spanish, there’s a killer book by Germà Bel called España, capital París, exposing the madness of mixing politics and infrastructures.

The solution proposed by Professor Bel is simple but hardly likely to be welcomed by centralist governments. It requires recognition by the Madrid government not only that a fundamentally radial policy flies in the face of the dynamics of economic activity but also that it brings in its wake the need for uneconomic subsidies. Radial policies have little economic rationale but merely respond to a historic pattern, the quest to make Spain like France, with a capital like Paris. Professor Bel thus explains why Spanish infrastructural policy is so different and so much more inefficient than that of its neighbours. From the Preface by Series Editor Paul Preston

Germà Bel’s book develops a rich and insightful analysis of the politics of nation building which have dominated the policy of transport infrastructure development in Spain since the nineteenth century. This policy, he argues, has followed a conscious and clearly planned design, which has contributed to transforming the capital city of Madrid into the economic, and above all, the political centre of Spain. One of the main theses of the book is that Spanish governments have consistently, since the nineteenth century, used public transport infrastructure policies as a way of advancing a Spanish nation-building project aimed at promoting a Spanish state that is highly centralized, both politically and economically. Reviewed in European History Quarterly, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal, King’s College London

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