The International Writers Magazine: Politics and Finance in Europe
The Return of Andalus
It’s hard to open up this month’s chapter on Spain without reverting first and foremost to the present developments in the Middle East, in particular the whole of the Arab world.
We all know that the volcanoes in Tunisia and Egypt have ceased to erupt although some of the larvae are still flowing around the streets of Tunis and Cairo. Bahrain is still trying to sort out whether the monarchs are legal or not whilst Yemen and Libya are the present front runners with Algeria and Morocco following close behind. All in all it is a real mess that will have far reaching repercussions for the entire world let alone the West. For the first time in modern history the economic powers and all the international institutions from United Nations to the African Union haven’t got the foggiest idea on how to handle the situation. For all we know and by the time this report is posted a brand new world conflict will have commenced or the whole shebang turned into a stationery hurricane waiting to kick off with brute force in goodness knows what direction.
So; placing the geo-political aftermath on the back burner with the question on everyone’s lips as to whether the Muslim Brotherhood will take over and turn every Arab nation into another Iran the question is, ‘what is really in store for the West and in particular our own patch known as Europe?’ No need to worry about Uncle Sam as the USA is too far away and has yet to really appreciate what is going on in our own backyard. So who’s the immediate vulnerable nation to be hit by the Middle East Tsunami and who will be the follow on candidate as front runners in Europe? But first an overall appraisal is necessary.
The main issue concerning all of us is the obvious one and that is the oil. With prices rocketing and a possible shortage, are we back to the early 70’s when our friends from the ‘desert’ cut off supply and upped the prices? The pumps went dry and everyone scrambled to the survival trenches to pray for the lights to come back on! They did and for the next thirty years we all went back to gas guzzling. Will this happen again? If it does the situation is far more dramatic because this time round we’re talking about a bellicose situation with Arab fighting Arab and a possible destruction of the oil field installations. It may not happen say some but the way Gaddafi and his mobsters are acting at the moment anything is possible. What is certain is that there will be a scramble all round to make sure the world’s energy, especially the electric power grids continue to operate. Otherwise gents with oil heading towards $200 a barrel, it’s ‘the last one out shut the door!’ Next is the overall economics. No sooner have we seen ‘green shoots’ around the world when along come the Bedouins and pour weed killer on the crops. I know it goes hand in hand with the oil but even if the situation settles in the next few months those small gains will have vanished and its back to the ‘drawing board’.
Next we have those waiting in the wings to join the fun although the demonstrations so far have been subdued and nowhere near the ferocity of their Arab counterparts. I refer to Morocco and Algiers. Bahrain and the Emirates are Western playgrounds whilst Egypt and Tunisia are a tourist’s paradise. We all know about Libya and the oil. But these north-western African countries thanks to their geographic position are different. They are very important trading partners with the European Union other than gas and oil. Because of their close historical ties as ex colonies of France and Spain they continue to rely on very heavy business relations including industrial, agricultural and lucrative fishing licenses not to mention local employment by European companies settled on their territory. Algeria is a moderate Muslim republic whilst Morocco continues as a long standing constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. Nevertheless the potential for trouble (unless it has already started as I go to press) is there. So why should we emphasize and issue a warning to Europe and as I asked earlier, who’s the most vulnerable?
Let’s start with mass emigration. Libyans are fleeing like flies away from Gadaffi’s killers. The first to be hit is Italy that has braced itself for the avalanche and has already sent out the SOS to the rest of us. The second is Spain and it’s never ending problem with Morocco as a possible threat but for a different migratory reason. If a real revolution takes place and Morocco turns ugly the Spanish government will be faced with a demand to annex Western Sahara that is at the moment under the protectorate of the United Nations as an undefined de-colonised territory yet is seeking full independence. It doesn’t end there. If the Moroccans, taking advantage of the whole muddled set up in the Arab world should succeed, the next step will be an attempt to take over Ceuta and Melilla which are Spanish provinces on the other side of the Straits of Gibraltar and border with Morocco. Both the Italian and Spanish concerns are added value to the present oil/energy plight that threatens European stability and if not given the same importance by the big shots in Brussels then the EU is in more trouble than it realises. Enough said; let’s return to Spain’s internal woes.
As the government reckons it has an energy problem the first attempt to dampen the need is an immediate edict to reduce the speed limit on the motorways from 120 kilometres to 110. The Interior Minister, Sr. Alfredo Rubalcaba has stated that the reduction would mean a drop by about 15% in fuel consumption. Can’t say I disagree as it would also reduce the number of accidents. Whether Spaniards will take any notice is another matter. Second issue and a thornier subject is the extension of life for the existing nuclear power stations that president Zapatero had sworn to shut down as soon as possible. This has opened up yet another thorny subject on nuclear power policy and whether the country should begin to plan for construction of new nuclear power stations. Will Spain finally succumb to the inevitable and join the gang of European governments that are looking down the same stretches of energy highways?
On the political front the most important issues are the forthcoming regional as well as local town council elections that have turned into a ferocious battle with a whole mixed bag of contenders. They are strategic as the outcome will be indicative of the mood of the populous towards the general elections in 2012. If the results go against the government it could mean a reshuffle in the Socialist camp and ZP could face eventual replacement by new blood within the party ranks. Typical mudslinging, insults and hundreds of lawsuits against corrupt politicians is going on throughout the country. It's real mayhem as more a more dirt is uncovered from Andalucía to Catalonia and across to the West. All kinds of obscure and sinister fraudulent schemes are emerging from insignificant gifts to illegal property possession not to mention handouts to relatives and friends. Never since the transfer over to democracy has so much filth floated to the surface. We’re talking about billions of Euros of public funds!
Then there’s the thorny issue of ETA, the Basque separatist movement and its supposedly illegal party Batasuna reorganised and renamed ‘Situ’ that threatens to present itself with political candidates in the local elections. Added to the problem is the investigation of an undercover government plot nicknamed ‘pheasant’ to strike a deal with the terrorists. An independent judiciary took over the case from the famous judge Garzon (the guy who went after Chile’s Pinochet) who was conveniently sent to the International Court of Justice in the Hague after it was discovered that he’d originally shelved it for three years in order to safeguard any government embarrassment. Very messy indeed!
Next is the never ending trauma of mounting unemployment that continues to rise. Zapatero insists that his reforms in the labour market laws will eventually work and Spain will rise above the ashes. The opposition doesn’t believe a word and insists that ZP hasn’t a clue how to run the country let alone solve the problem. Nevertheless the EU is now concerned as the younger generation is extremely vulnerable with over 40% on the dole. Whatever plagues the rest of the world, Spain’s future job creation is years away from a solution.
Finally we’ve got the financial set up of an unsolvable trade deficit, an unsustainable international debt, bankrupt banks and an extremely expensive welfare state that is running out of money. Sounds pretty grim; right? The worse is yet to come. The citizens have not yet taken to the streets. Why? For two reasons; families are sticking together and tending to support their unemployed brethren and ‘moonlighting’ is rampant. Spanish street beggars opposite supermarkets have taken over from their South American counterparts that have decided that they’re better off returning to their native homeland.
There is one good note to end this grim tale. Because of the Middle East and other misdemeanours around the world the Spanish tourist trade should blossom once again. At least that is what the Tourist Board is banking on with the ‘usual suspects’ of European sun seekers turning up this summer to fill the always available and pleasant ‘tapas bars’. Low cost airlines will certainly be busy!
© James Skinner. March 1st , 2011.
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An historical background to Spanish Economic woes