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The International Writers Magazine: From our Spanish Correspondent

Losing Patience in Spain
• James Skinner
Spaniards are fed up! They are fed up of political bickering, government statements of ‘the end of recession’, independence pleas by regional nationalists, banking disorders, corruption in practically every sector of the community, be it political parties, town councils, trade unions – who have been very quiet by the way – individual tax evaders and above all, members of the royal family.
Spanish crowds

I would say that society has reached the point of no return and are asking those in decision making positions to come clean, begin to kick start the economy and stop the rot once and for all. In other words they are clamouring for food on the table and jobs for the breadwinners. With an unemployment rate of over 26% and little signs of reducing in the near future, university graduates fleeing north and small firms shutting down on a daily basis, I couldn’t agree more. There have been many demonstrations throughout the country on all kinds of matters. Not uncommon if one opens the news columns on other countries in Europe, especially Greece and Portugal, but the usual effect and result is the same. Honest citizens take to the streets only to open the door to the ultra-violent – on all sides of political ideology – and the police take over with the usual bully tactics to disperse the crowds. So what’s the answer?

It’s been some time since I first brought out the real problem issues in Spain after the so called world crisis began some 5 years ago. I said that apart from the economy, this country suffered from a deep rooted geo-political problem that has been festering for at least twenty years. Whilst the money rolled in from European funds and tourism, every sector of government was on a spending spree, the banks were on a joy ride lending money left right and centre boosting construction beyond control and everyone felt that there was no tomorrow. Meanwhile the political cauldron was brewing. Eventually the bubble burst, the party ended and the hangover set in.

My geo-political observations and recommendations in previous editions are at this moment truer than ever, especially as one of my key points is now being brought out in more than one chat show and think tank asking for a revision of the Constitution and, above all a ‘state pact’ between the two major parties to set out a proper road map to save Spain from falling apart. Believe me it is real serious.

The socialists (PSOE) and conservatives (PP) hold the majority of seats in parliament and, apart from the ‘rebel’ regions of Catalonia and the Basque country, in most of the autonomous ones. The thousands of town councils are in a similar situation. Problem is that the whole democratic system in Spain, ever since the end of the dictatorship is based on so called ‘opposition’. This means that whatever the party in power wishes to introduce, be it a new law, a change in budget, introduction of reforms, as is the present case due to the crisis, it is the duty of all others ‘not in power’ to oppose the leaders. This may appear as normal in most democracies but in Spain it has always been a ‘no’ to any government proposal no matter who is in the seat of power. Every head of a political party, wherever they may be based and no matter how small – republicans, regional nationalists, communists, independents, obscure hard left mixtures - is in on the act and many, thanks to coalitions have a certain clout in decision making. Think of this lot as holding the – in finance jargon – ‘golden share’. There was a certain amount of decorum in the daily parliamentary, regional and local political sessions but this has moved from common sense dialogue to a gutter style slinging match. Gone are the days of educated political rhetoric now replaced with outright heavy insulting from all sides. Let’s give a few examples.

At this moment the government is trying to push through a new education law that will increase productivity, in other words properly educated youngsters. Thanks to opposition politicians, their lobbies and the majority of the media, the whole country is against it, despite the fact that Spain’s education system is on the rocks and needs a tremendous overhaul. The Education Minister is called all sorts of names wherever he goes. Mustn’t forget we’ve got the co–official language problem of Catalan, Basque and Galician fighting for dominance in each respective region adding spice to the saga. A whole chapter would be required to once again report on this issue.  

Next are the two National Insurance pillars, the health service and pensions. They are faced with a growing deficit and running out of money. A great deal of cutbacks is taking place, especially in pharmaceuticals as well as the privatisation of some hospitals services. Trouble is that years ago each autonomous region was allowed to run its own system and not all are playing to the same rules. The pension row has just started. Spain reckons that within a few years the number of geriatrics receiving their earned retirement cheque will double whilst the population will shrink. This sounds familiar in many parts of the world but once again the new rules to alter the retirement age as well as an increase in the number of years needed to earn a pension are slamming into a fierce opposition wall, heavy insults included.

Despite these moves in the right direction by the government and holding on as strong as they can, continuing on their path of reforms, they still haven’t tackled the major needed changes. These are a complete revision of the public sector (civil service other than health and education) that continues to be extremely top heavy and a reduction of bureaucracy that is hurting the private sector. It still takes months of paperwork to start up a small enterprise. And above all, reduce the labour costs (not necessarily salaries) allowing companies to hire staff and become more competitive in the modern world. If the banks are eventually sorted out and money begins to flow with credit for the entrepreneurs the economy might begin to shine. As stated previously, employment is still way out of sync. The IMF, EU and European Central Bank continue to lambast Spain to reduce the dreadful figure of dole bearers hitting the headlines every first of the month. But when?

The above are the general painful issues still facing Spain and if not addressed will continue to persecute the nation’s citizens despite all the macro-economic hubris broadcasted by government. What about the recent specific news?

King Juan Carlos is in poor health and once again has been hospitalised to undergo an operation to replace an infected hip implant. He’s had many major operations in his lifetime but this time round, and due to his age he may take a long while to recover. A private hospital was chosen for the operation and a renowned surgeon, albeit a Spaniard, was flown in from the USA to carry out the surgery. This alone caused all ‘other opposition’ movements to demonstrate before the hospital demanding that the King be treated like any other social service patient. One obscure party MP in parliament went as far as suggesting that he should have visited an osteopath! Meanwhile the subject of succession has been brought into the limelight and many monarchists are questioning whether he should step down and allow his heir, Prince Felipe to take over the reins of the Monarchy. If we add this situation to the growing unpopularity of the royal family – reported previously – another door has been opened, especially by the Republicans to do away with the whole institution and replace it with a Republic. It’s worth remembering that the King of Spain is also the Head of State and the Armed Forces.

The PM, Sr. Mariano Rajoy addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. Guess what? He had another go at the UK over Gibraltar, but then he is a very smart politician. Spain has been out of favour for some time with the Organization of Latin American States ever since – remember? – King Juan Carlos told the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela to shut up at one of their yearly meetings of heads of state. By adding Spain’s support on Argentina’s claim on the Falklands I suppose he hoped to win back their favour and popularity. He also said how well his government was sorting out the country’s economic problems and requested the Assembly that Spain be included in the future UN Security Council. Not bad for about a 10 minute speech.

Finally we’ve still got the Gibraltar issue. The European Commission sent a team to check on the complaints by Spain, the UK and the Gibraltar government on a variety of issues that I reported in previous essays. Suffice to add that they came, interviewed a series of persons and entities on both sides and went back to Brussels. ‘Don’t call us; we’ll call you,’ were their parting words.’

I give Spain another three months before the lid blows off. Two small bombs went off in the last two weeks. One in a church in Zaragoza and the other in the town council of a small town in Orense (Galicia). An army general has made some comments on TV that the army is fed up!

Yesterday, a group of feminists - two were not even Spaniards (French) - were invited to attend a parliament session and suddenly took off their clothes and declared that 'abortion was sacred'. The government (PP) condemned it, the extreme left and communists applauded and the Socialists just ignored it with a sort of 'no comment'.

Meanwhile, corruption has turned into a national Tsunami. Judge Alaya, sorting out the mammoth mess in Andalusia is already receiving threats as she climbs up the political and trade union ladders uncovering the thugs. The finance lot say 'were on the road to recovery', the opposition boos it, whilst poverty hits harder and harder as more people go hungry and clutter the streets with their pleas for mercy. I expressed my concerns to a Spanish friend saying, 'we're back to 1934'. 'No', he answered, 'it's now 1936!' All it needs is a political assassination and... Well you can work out the rest.
The EU as usual, hasn't a clue on what's going on here. Everyone is scared.                  

© James Skinner. October 10, 2013

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