In the last post I argued over the question of what is an authentic think tank and I concluded that the Political Party think tanks do not deserve that name. I know it is a controversial issue, but I prefer to say that this type of organization does not emerge from the civil society and is not an alternative way of participating in the public policy process. Simply they contribute to reinforce the power position of the political parties without contributing to the democratisation of the political decisions.
I understand that these factories of ideas have the right to make their points in politics, but I do not think they are real public policy entrepreneurs. The most dangerous role political party think tanks can play is that they work to reduce the political debate to the game of only three or four players: Government officials, civil servants, political parties and the olligarchy of any society (big corporations, trade unions and small group of social leaders). It is not healthy for an advanced democracy. We can find a good example of the pressure that political party think tanks make in the political scene: the case of Spain. In this country, the think tank movement started at early 80’s and exploded around the beginning of the 21th Century. Now there are around thirty think tanks with a limited presence in the public sphere. You can have more data in the Guía de los think tanks en España, published by the Fundación Ciudadanía y Valores.
In the last ten years, managers of big political parties have worked to concentrate all of their research and analysis resources in one big foundation which could get a high public profile. First, it was an iniciative of the conservative Popular Party, which joint all its organisations under the Fundación Faes. The current President of the foundation is José María Aznar, past Primer Minister of Spain. He uses the ‘think tank’ as a political platform to participate in the political debate although he retired from active politics after 2004. Several actions of the foundation have caused a hard rejection and a lack of public confidence on the real value of the ideas of the Fundación Faes in the public policy process. Another bad consequence of the concentration has been the extinction of other voices in the conservative thinking. Journalists give a lot of space to the Faes activities and help to disseminate the belief that this is the paradigm of a think tank. Therefore, Spanish society has become suspicious on the recent think tank phenomenon.
Looking at the mistakes made by the conservatives with the Fundación Faes, I expected that Spanish socialists were going to offer a different paradigm for a political party think tank. They even have excellent examples in other countries of think tanks linked to a political party but which maintain enough distance to assure their independence. But Socialist Party officials, commanded by the past Labour Minister, Jesús Caldera, have followed the same way that Faes’ promoters. They have set up a big think tank, the Fundación Ideas, capable of fighting in the political arena with the Fundación Faes, but very close to the stablishment. It suggest that also is going to extinct the voices of small think tanks around the Socialist power. Like it happens in the electoral systems, citizens see that their political options are diminishing and that political debate is only for professionals. The situation is not good for democratic progress. If you visit the corporate website of the Fundación Ideas, you will see that at the moment, it do not offer any chance for people participation. And we are living in the Web 2.0 .