Martin Baumeister and Roberto Sala
In 2004, The Economist published, under the title 'The Fit and the Flabby', a cartoon depicting three men in underpants. The man at the center was remarkably obese and wore drawers in the colors of the German flag. At his sides, two slender bodybuilders-whose briefs had the colors of Spain and France-exhibited their fully oversized muscles. The message was clear. At that time, Germany was considered the 'sick man of Europe', as a country 'facing its most serious stagnation in postwar history' (Hein and Truger, 2005). France, its traditional main concurrent, appeared to be in much better shape. The novelty was, however, the third counterpart: as Europe's new 'top performer', Spain appeared to match the two major economies of the continent. The Spanish economy represented a model envied by many that since the seventies had successfully managed the 'transition from an agricultural society to a modern economy dominated by the service sector' (Mas and Quesada 2007, 87).
After the outbreak of the financial, the economic and eventually the debt crisis, a few years later the situation has fully changed. Not least thanks to its broad industrial sector, previously considered its weak spot, Germany has resurged and mutated from 'Sick Man of Europe to Economic Superstar' (Dustman et al. 2014) while France has been hit by severe economic and social problems. Of the three, however, the main loser has been Spain, falling down from the economic miracle to a dramatic recession that has deeply affected the Spanish society as well as the cohesiveness of the European Union.
The rise and decline of Spain is paradigmatic for the area that-including also Italy, Portugal, and Greece-is usually called 'Southern Europe' in today's political and scientific discourse. Before the crisis, the international reputation of these countries was quite different. In comparison with other Western European states, Portugal and Greece were still regarded as less dynamic economies that, nonetheless, were achieving remarkable results. On the contrary, Italy was said to be a country affected by stagnation and still living off the economic boom of the past. Nevertheless, all four Southern European countries were considered an integral part of the wealthy (Western) European economies. Also by leaving behind the past authoritarian regimes, they seemed to have mastered the deep economic underdevelopment still affecting them after World War II and become solid democracies and reliable members of the Western community.
After 2007 and especially 2010, the South has been at the center of public debates over the crisis. Although Ireland-as regards the debt crisis the second 'I' of the PIIGS-and partly France have shared common problems with these countries, it is undisputed that 'Southern Europe' constitutes 'the' European problem. In other words-as far as their economic and social emergencies are concerned-the near future of Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece appears to be decisive for the success or failure of the European integration project.
This book addresses the question of whether 'Southern Europe' is a useful concept for understanding the European present and recent past. Do Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece represent an area shaped by common paths and patterns of development as well as structural analogies? Or is 'Southern Europe' a misleading notion brought up by polarized political debates? From this perspective, following an interdisciplinary approach, the volume looks both at the current situation and considers its historical roots, back in the early post-war period.
While historiography has not dealt intensively with 'Southern Europe', in the last decades, disciplines such as economics, sociology, and political science have offered in-depth analyses of Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece in terms of a common area of development. A recurrent characteristic of these studies consists