The International Writers Magazine: Spanish Politics and Urgent Reforms Needed
Spain Needs Statesmenship
Amidst campaign propaganda using pornographic videos, Pac man computer games gobbling up illegal immigrants and one showing a man running through the streets dressed as mainland Spain stealing the wallets of innocent bystanders Catalonian citizens finally went to the polls.
As I stated in my previous report the regional elections in Catalonia have taken place and as predicted the right wing leaning CiU party, headed by Artur Mas has won the majority of votes but not enough to form a government. Sr. Mas has been pushing for more and more autonomy from Spain and even hinted at a future referendum on independence, but he has two challenges. The Popular Party, who is dead against any type of Spanish breakup, has gone up in number of seats in their parliament and is going to give him a hard time. Secondly and although the Socialists came second, Sr. Mas knows that a coalition agreement with the left is dangerous, nevertheless he may have to ‘bargain’ with them to govern successfully. He is a cautious and clever politician and will probably wait until the Spanish town council elections next May before sorting out a proper government road map. Any type of eventual separation policy he had wished to implement during his election campaign will have to be revised. Separatism will probably be placed on the backburner and his initial efforts will be aimed at sorting out the financial mess first. Nevertheless, a great number of Catalans have been brainwashed for years with ‘Catalanism’ and one can never tell what will happen in the future. To cap it all, the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid and Barcelona played the day after the elections ended with a smashing Barcelona win with five goals to nil. Catalonia was rejoicing.
Greece has had its house invaded and the disinfectant brigade have moved in to remove the rats and the cockroaches. The occupants have been very upset and gone to the streets to show their disgust at such a cleanout. Meanwhile the ‘inspectors’ have moved on to Ireland and are going through the same process. Chief inspectors Merkel and Sarkozy continue to review the results whilst they go through the check list of ‘who’s next’. My next door neighbour, Portugal is bracing itself for the onslaught of EU boffins, each with their clipboards, calculators and laptops all ready to go through the routine ‘spring cleaning’ of Europe’s economic spendthrift rouges. Spain is probably next but judging by the government you’d think we’re on another planet.
‘We’re all right, Jack,’ says our Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, ‘we’re not Greece, Ireland, nor Portugal.’ ZP, alias Mr. Bean. He and his ‘new’ team of ministers are still hell bent on selling the same old theme to us citizens and the world at large that Spain will eventually emerge from the ashes and shake off the ills more effectively than his European neighbours. He blames the right as unpatriotic in its constant accusations of mismanagement, the international stock markets for disbelieving his figures and forecasts and anyone else who disagrees with him or his ‘puppet’ government. On top of it all he adds emphatically, ‘whatever it takes, I will not ‘sack’ any civil servants nor reduce social benefits.’ This is the key to Spain’s woes.
But enough is enough of my reporting on what has been going on over the past two years of the effect the world financial disaster has had on Spain and the blind eye and hood-winking’, pardon the pun, that ZP has been broadcasting over the waves during all this time. Rather than dissect all this political paella I shall give my version of the reforms needed in order to put this country on the right road to recovery. It may of course, take decades, it will cause bloody strife and more than one generation will have to sacrifice the benefits that have been handed out ever since the old buzzard Franco passed away. In bullet format and in a nutshell here goes.
- Spain’s banking system is not the best in the world. ZP or whoever governs in the near future will have to come clean on the banking systems’ balance sheets and in particular the Savings Banks that are presently going through a complete overhaul. Unless the amount of their ‘debit’ side is brought to light and somehow remedied the foundations for a recovery cannot be laid out. This adds up to two questions,’ ‘how many citizens and entities, including local governments that owe money are able to pay their debts?’ and, ‘what is the real value of the defaulted property on their books?’ This takes me to the second point.
- It is said that 30% of over 8000 town councils are literally bankrupt. The only solution is to reduce their number to a manageable size. In other words, do away with hundreds if not thousands of local governments and in effect reduce their future administrative budgets. The present debt, said to be about thirty billion Euros would have to some how be absorbed by the national government; thus on to the next point.
- A massive reduction of all kinds of public institutions from regional government ‘offshoots’, provincial deputations, central government delegations and the plethora of so called public advisory bodies must be abolished.
- The public health system needs a financial overhaul including the possibility of ‘paying’ for certain services. This will reduce not only the cost but the massive abuse of the system. Private investment is needed for future hospitals and clinics.
- The same applies to future infrastructure investment. As an example private capital is needed to complete the future high speed rail system.
- The Trade Unions must be divorced from the Socialist People’s Party and revert to an independent body financed by its supporters and not by taxpayers’ subsidies. A very important step that leads on to the next.
- The collective bargaining system of industrial and business contracts must be abolished or at least condensed and applied primarily to large corporations. 60% or thereabouts of GDP is produced by small and medium sized companies (5 to 500 employees). If these companies were allowed to reach agreement in salary and other work conditions directly with their employees without union or government intervention the whole labour market of Spain would be opened up. The labour laws are strong enough to prevent any discrimination, human rights infringements or abuses.
- The system of ‘jobs for life’ in the public sector must also be abolished. To work for any sector of government Spaniards must study for years then take a set of examinations for each post within the system. Once the position is granted, that person can never be dismissed. This is one of the major factors hitting hard at the possible cutback of public spending demanded by the EU.
- If I tried to set out my recommendations for the overhaul of the education system I would need to start a whole new essay. Although the implementation of the Bologna system is gradually being instituted in the universities to conform to European requirements, the primary and secondary education bodies have to revise the system to reduce student dropout and lack of interest in general by the younger generation. It’s a difficult issue similar to other countries in Europe. The statistics speak for themselves.
- Reduction of bureaucracy is next on my list. How? The whole administrative system needs serious and immediate revision, including the judiciary that is anchored on XIX Century standards. The set up of a company, the issuing of business licenses, the enormous amount of commercial court cases pending sentences and thousands of other examples require an overhaul to streamline the country into a competitive mode once and for all. Spain will never become competitive if its commercial and industrial sector (see also point g) is hampered by unnecessary ‘paperwork’ and is able to compete with the up and coming third world economies, i.e. China, India, Brazil to give examples.
- As for fiscal policies, well I cannot comment as without the rest of the issues being addressed Spain muddles along with similar percentages of tax, up or down, with the rest of the world. This is almost inevitable and standard practice.
- No need to mention pension reform as that is an obvious must.
- Finally we have the most important of all and that is the political structure of the country. As the title of my essay implies, what is and has been lacking ever since the end of the dictatorship is a sense of ‘statesmanship’ amongst the politicians in power and those in the major opposition party. Spain suffers from ‘overpowering’ regional nationalism that is literally controlling the government. It needs to be addressed urgently or else as I have stated so often before, Spain will be broken up similarly to Yugoslavia with an independent Catalonia, Basque country and possibly Galicia. If so, let’s hope it’s peaceful and not as bloody.
If the IMF has a go at Spain they’ll be looking at all the above issues and all hell will break lose when they have to have a go at sorting the mess out. This is where the real underlying problem will come to light.
I end on a sombre note. The incredible antagonism between the two major Spanish political parties, one in government and the other in the opposition has gone beyond the boundaries of normal and acceptable public rivalry in a democratic country. The intensity of the insults, the absurdity of the accusations and the nonsensical rhetoric between both has divided the country to the extent that the populous is unable to appreciate, let alone understand the enormous financial crisis that confronts the nation. The leaders need their heads bashed in the old fashion boarding school way to drum some sense into both and return to a consensus of intelligent discussions and bi-lateral agreements to turn the whole mess around and drive Spain back onto a recovery track. In other words, a unilateral cry for proper statesmanship is needed to save the nation.’
Late News: Dec 2010
Seems like ZP has read my essay. Suddenly, and out of the blue he not only cancelled his trip to Argentina and Bolivia to attend a Spain-Latin America summit he stood up in parliament today and announced an astonishing set of measures the government will implement to reduce Spain’s deficit. Among them are partial privatization of the airports and national lottery, tax reduction for small businesses (one of mine), reduction of bureaucracy (another) such as removing obligatory registration with the chambers of commerce and annulling extended unemployment benefits for the long term unemployment. Every one of these measures smashes into the heart of his Social Welfare State. Naturally the Brussels puppets and the international stock markets are tickled pink whilst the trade unions and their followers are still picking themselves up from the floor and dusting off the debris. The down side is that once again ZP and his urchins confirm that their government planning is no more than pot shooting at moving ducks at a fair ground. What will he come up with next?’
Note added 10th December. A reader contacted James to say the following:
When ZP took over 7 years ago the spanish Airports were breaking even. They now owe 13000M Euros and the interest alone outweighs the controller’s salaries. 9 out 47 airports are viable, the rest operate on a huge loss. Why? Because the increase in passengers or freight does not match up to government’s spending spree in boosting them up (Example: Vigo had a new terminal built about 10 years ago including tower. They are now spending 100M in building another to cater for 4M passengers whereas the numbers for 2010 didn’t reach 1M). Marsans, a large travel agency operating in Spain has gone belly up with a debt of 400M Euros; dozens of offices shutting down! Just another spit in the ocean of how this country is operating.
© James G. Skinner. December 10th 2010
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