The International Writers Magazine: Our Man in Spain
Thanks God for the tourists
James Skinner in Spain
I was going to wait until October to report once again on this fantastic country that I live in called Spain, as we’re still in holiday mode and most of the ‘champions of industry’ and their counterpart ‘the politicians’, save a couple of suckers, are still nowhere to be seen.
During the whole of July and August, the beaches have been full, the bars and restaurants overflowing and what is more important the influx of foreign tourists has increased surpassing last year’s figures including those from Britain adding to the coffers of the nation. Everyone is happy!
What lies ahead, as I said in previous reports is yet to be seen. The banking system is still under review and the final outcome of what to do with the Savings Banks will not be sorted out until November. Beneath the surface it all points to a complete reshuffle of capitalisation, whatever that means and the closure of at least 25% of the offices.
Obviously the trade unions are up in arms because it means more unemployed before the end of the year. Talking about this sector of society, the general strike, the first one since the socialists are in power – now going on 6 years – won’t take place until the 29th of this month. The swords are already unsheathed. Watch this space in October.
On the labour front, the government is about to approve a series of measures, totally anti-social that include reducing the ‘dole time’ for those who continually turn down job offers and prefer to moonlight. Good measure but not enough says the EU. So what else?
Once again the pension system has come up for scrutiny. Apparently the last couple of finance ministers, both socialists tried to reform it, and this is going back to the early 90’s but were soon shot down in flames by all and sundry. When PM Felipe Gonzalez was in power, years ago he upped the contribution timeframe into the Social Security from 10 to 15 years before anyone received a penny. The proposal on the table is now to increase it to 20. What does this mean? That those that are coming up for a pension and don’t have enough ‘Brownie points’ in the system, will find that they’ve run out of time and cannot meet the deadline once they reach 65, or 60 for women. The EU, naturally is all for it!
The main problem continues to be the unemployment rate. It sits at 20% and although the figures have dipped slightly because of the tourist season, the forecast for the end of the year by the pessimistic pundits is that it’ll start rising again. There is no hope for 2011 unless a miracle occurs and the economy begins to really pick up. Spain is part of Europe. It therefore still depends a great deal on its neighbours for part of the recovery. Yet if you put it all together and barring the antagonistic lefties who continue to believe in fairy tales there is no reason why Spain should not follow the same path as the rest and come out of the recession sooner or later. Ah! But there is a caveat looming in the dark known as ‘Nationalism’ or ‘Separatism’, take your pick!
Whilst all this economic upheaval has been taking place around the world, the Catalans, the Basques and to a certain degree the Galicians have been busily working out their plans to break away from Spain. As reported in Hackwriter's editorial last month, the Catalans have banned bullfighting, not because many persons consider it a barbaric feast but because it represents ‘Spanish imposition’ on the Catalan people. This is just one example of many. The situation is complex, but suffice to summarise that slowly and blatantly, the Catalan government is defying Spanish sovereignty over the region and what is worse, Zapatero’s government continues to give in. The very core of the Spanish Constitution is up for scrutiny in order to allow this to happen! My own prediction is that within the next decade Catalonia will become an independent nation within Europe followed closely behind by the Basque country. ETA, the separatist violent movement continues to be a threat, but that is another story. As far as Galicia is concerned, they are still very much dependant on the National Government for their overall funding. In other words they would not survive economically whereas the other two regions, apart from Madrid are the richest within the seventeen regions of Spain.
So what else has been happening that affects the running of this country?
Two ‘elite’ NGO’ Catalan volunteers that were kidnapped by Al Qaeda terrorists in Mauritania about nine months ago have been released. Everyone is happy so far, except that the amount of ransom paid by ‘yet to be defined’ benefactors were eight million dollars. According to certain journalists this organisation is more in line with a ‘safari’ tourist agency than an international ‘do-gooder’ to assist the poor in Africa. A heated debate has just started. Even Sarkozy has joined in the act by accusing Spain of being too benevolent with terrorists. By the way, the NGO is totally Catalan with octopus-like tentacles dipping deep into the Regional Government’s pockets!
Coupled to this saga are the recent murder of two civil guards and their Spanish interpreter in Afghanistan by a Taliban terrorist. Although the government has always maintained that the troops out in the Kyber Pass are really on a peace-keeping mission handing out lollipops to the local kids, this new tragedy has kicked off renewed criticism. ‘What the hell are we really doing out there?’ is on every Spaniards’ lips. General Petreus; watch out.
There has also been a rumpus down in Ceuta and Melilla, two of Spain’s most southern provinces on the other side of the ‘Stretch’ (Gibraltar area). Morocco has been causing problems because some of their citizens have been insulting the female Spanish Civil Guards on the border and the merchants have boycotted the delivery of goods. Our Minister of Equality for women has been silent throughout the process. Even the King of Spain has been involved in trying to pacify our Muslim neighbours. There could be more in store in the future but all is calm at the moment; situation back to normal. How come? Spain has sent the women gunslingers back north!
So what does all this imply for the rest of Europe or the West?
Economically as I continue to repeat month after month, unless there is a complete turn around in the basic political system I believe there is no real hope of any financial cohesion emanating from Spain now or in the future. The economic power points are spread across the autonomous regions that house over eight thousand town councils. To get all this lot to agree on budgets and to tighten their belts and work together is impossible. It just won’t happen. A parallel situation is that all civil servants included in the budgets are in their jobs ‘for life’. They just cannot be fired. The personnel cost involved in the public sector due to the surplus (remember the EU’s is constantly asking Spain to reduce its public debt) cannot be trimmed. The doomsday soothsayers predict social upheaval by 2012 when the money really runs out and all those that manage at the moment will be completely out of pocket.
In the meantime, ZP’s ministers continue to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes, including the EU hoping, like the ostrich, that the ills will go away. Everyone else is to blame including Bush although poor old George has been out of the scene for over a year. Obama, by the way, can do no wrong; after all he’s also a socialist.
Best news however is that the Spanish football league has started. That’ll keep everyone happy for a while. Even the Catalans with their beloved 2009 champions Barcelona are hell bent in humiliating Real Madrid once again. Come back Beckham, all is forgiven!’
© James Skinner. September, 2010.