Spain's long wait to enter the European Community brings to mind an episode in the travels of Don Quixote in which the eccentric knight promises to make his servant, Sancho Panza, governor of an island they never seem to reach.
When are we ever going to get there, Sancho wonders.
After more than 50 top-level sessions since 1979, the negotiations between Spain and the EC have entered a crucial and final stage. However, the ultimate crunch on the vital issues of wine, olive oil and fishing has been pushed still further back, making tensions rise, as recent negotiating sessions have failed to get off the ground. More talks are planned this week in Brussels.
Manuel Marin, Spain's secretary for European affairs, describes the talks as ''playing pelota (jai alai) against a blanket.''
As EC members grapple with the stubborn problem of farm surpluses - highlighted by the prospect of Spanish entry - Spain has held out to get the most advantageous terms possible. It wants to avoid following the example set by Greece, which made a hurried entry on poor conditions.
But it still appears that Spain will have to adjust more to Europe than the reverse. With the largest fishing fleet in Western Europe, Spain will have to scale down its operations. A highly protected industry built up by the Franco dictatorship would like to hold onto a favorable agreement Spain wangled from the EC in 1970.
But the notion that Spain's industry will suffer inside the EC (even if its agriculture thrives) is challenged by Eduardo Punset, a former European affairs minister retained by the European Commission to present Spain to the member states.
''That myth will blow up with accession,'' he says. Since 1970, steel exports have jumped sharply despite the crisis. Spain may prove to be competitive in labor-intensive industries, such as trucks and shoes.
''Spain's industry isn't currently competitive for the good reason it didn't have to be until now,'' Punset says.
The deadline for an agreement looms. Spain must sign by early 1985 to allow for accession in January 1986,since ratification is needed from the parliaments of all 10 current members.
The initial political reasoning behind Spain's application - to join the club of democratic nations - has become less urgent with a more stable political climate.
Now Madrid has other reasons for hurrying up the negotiations. Failure to seal EC entry would risk provoking a resurgence of isolationist traditions when Spaniards vote next year - as they are due to - on whether they should stay in NATO.