The International Writers Magazine: The Future of Spain - Part Two
The Future of Europe & Spain
I was going to start this last yet short essay on the eve of Hackwriters demise - reporting on Spain’s future based on a change of government on the one hand and a final effort by the gurus of Brussels in trying to resolve the European Union’s woes on the other, in particular the Euro when dear old Blimey walks in and puts the cat amongst the pigeons.
Yes, I refer to David Cameron, British PM’s bazooka shot into the heart of the Anglo-French leaders on Friday the 9th refusing to have anything to do with the mainlanders in sorting out the economic mess every European is in. A sort of, ‘I’m all right Jack, bugger you lot with your financial problems!’ It certainly had its effect if you read the following day’s European press. A new anti-Britain front has been opened, yet again. But then there is a certain amount of a real solid reason for Britain’s 10 Downing St. to fight for the United Kingdom’s freedom in financial matters. The City of London is not only a major international money trading house, it also accounts for over 10% of Britain’s GDP. Just think about it, the country earns a tenth of its income in just one square mile of land! However, as the saying goes, ‘there is no evil that lasts 100 years’. Who knows how long Britain can continue to survive in just printing money for rich foreigners, after all, they don’t really make anything else of real clout compared to industrial Europe. Besides, they now have to cope with an irate Iran calling them all names under the sun and Argentina – plus all other Latin American States - once again rattling swords over the Falklands Islands. Spain could possibly jump on the bandwagon and demand the return of Gibraltar. As Basil Fawlty would say, ‘don’t mention the war!’
Personal opinion is that the country needs the EU more than ever unless they opt to seek membership of the USA as the 51st state and rely on Washington to see them through into the following centuries. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the EU summit was a roaring success. Far from it! There is still a great deal of heavy debt across the continent, especially amongst the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) that needs sorting out. The ‘how’ is still on every economist’s lips throughout the world.
So let’s get back to Spain.
As reported earlier, Spain has gone through a general election on the 20th of November and the conservative People’s Party, with Sr. Mariano Rajoy at the helm won enough votes to form an overall majority government for the next four years. There is a transition period up until the 21st of this month whereby the outgoing and incoming government goes through a sort of ‘handover’ period and despite the massive turmoil in Europe that affects Spain directly, the negotiations between Zapatero, the outgoing president and Ms. Soraya Santamaria, the PP’s spokesperson are going through without too much pain. In the mean time Sr. Rajoy appears to be taking steps in the right direction. Rather than come out blazing with all guns on his reform program he has kept relatively quiet, that is in press meetings and public releases. He has preferred to concentrate his time in his private office studying all aspects of Spain’s current problems and in meetings with all and sundry, both nationally and internationally to sort of ‘test the waters’. He has acted as shadow PM at the recent Brussels summit yet allowing Zapatero to convey the ‘agreed’ message regarding Spain’s future role in the decision makings of the EU. His overall major statement so far is that he will concentrate fully on economic recovery and in particular the badly needed labour reform that will stop the ‘unemployment’ haemorrhage that Spain is suffering at the moment. On this issue he has already read the riot act to the trade unions to get their act together by the middle of January or else his government will decide for them. So far so good but the real test will start at the beginning of next year once all the Christmas and other holiday hoopla is over.
Now for the bad news. Herewith in short brief form:
Ignoring the crisis, Iberia pilots are going on strike in December causing havoc with holidaymakers. The truckers are threatening likewise just before Christmas. Goodbye festive shopping, especially in supermarkets around the country. This is a sign that these specific union representatives couldn’t give a fig about the problems. They will continue to act according to their specific needs regardless of the damage done to the tourist trade and the people in general. The main union gurus from UGT and CCOO have yet to come out of their own shells although they have been warned by Rajoy that there will be major reforms allowing easier access of the unemployed to the labour market; take it or leave it!.
ETA is now truly embedded in the Spanish Parliament under the political arm of their newly formed conglomerate party Emuir. ETA itself is already beginning to show their teeth by demanding that the new government ‘ease’ the sentences on arrested terrorists. An example is their request for the transfer of their arrested members in other jails around Spain back to the Basque country. Rajoy has flatly refused to deal with them. The rest of the world thinks the conflict is over. Us in Spain know that the party is about to begin with ETA on the verge of replacing the autonomous government with their own people. Only time and Rajoy’s government actions will tell which way the whole mess will swing.
Let’s talk about another conflicting nationalist area. As far as Catalonia is concerned they are in desperate need to sort out their finances. For example, they have cut back on health costs by shutting down some medical centres and threatening that the wealthier take out private medical insurance to ease the pain. This is serious. They also have a hang-up on their Catalan language and have for years imposed it as the official language almost banning the Spanish lingo. It is having its effect as many companies have transferred to Madrid where the regional right wing government in this autonomy has imposed bilingualism in public schools – Spanish/English! This in itself has caused the teachers union to go on strike for the past two months because the English language teachers are not Spaniards but mainly from European English speaking countries.
Both above nationalistic regions have ‘Independence from Spain’ well and truly engraved in their future political agendas.
Then we have the public sector bureaucratic machine that I have explained in earlier essays. Rajoy has promised to investigate this and cut back on unnecessary duplication of activity. This is going to be really hard for two reasons. On the one hand the actual employees, by law have their jobs guaranteed for life and on the other it involves regional governments, deputations, central government representative offices and the gigantic number of town councils. The whole issue points again at a need for change in the Spanish Constitution, which is sacrosanct returning power to the central government. It is just another large hurdle for the new government to tackle.
What about the banks? What about the banks indeed. Like the rest of the financial world Spain is no different with an enormous financial ‘black cloud’ with all kinds of toxic assets to be resolved with good banks and bad banks battling it out to see who the loser is and who is the winner. Just think of the centuries old game of musical chairs and that is what is going on at the moment. Private debt is going up in leaps and bounds due to the continuing rise in unemployment in turn causing default on mortgages. November saw another increase of over 60000 Spaniards joining the dole. It is just another ‘tic’ on Rajoy’s hit list when he takes over at the end of the month.
Now we come to the unknown territory sector; in other words the key issues that will either put Spain in line with the rest of Europe – that is if Europe also gets its act in place – or set on a path of self destruction. Civil unrest is just building up as more a more people take over town council squares, occupy empty buildings and generally start their own self-made revolution. There are thousands of misfit characters of all walks of life simply demanding a ‘change’. The ‘occupy Wall St.’ mob has been imitated all over Europe, but especially in Spain where law and order just doesn’t exist. The police refuse to handle these cases due constant lack of backing from the ‘present’ and outgoing government. What Rajoy intends to do is still a mystery.
Then we have the Socialist Party itself that is still licking its wounds and is in a sort of limbo disarray figuring out what when wrong – as if the public didn’t know – and what exactly they need to do to act as the opposition party in the future. The new leader is part of the first battling hurdle they need to sort out. This is a very crucial issue because all their so called socialist gains over the past 8 years are liable to come crumbling down as the new conservative government brings out the scissors and starts trimming down the welfare state. If they decide to reorganize the party to turn it into XXI Socialism – whatever that is - and come to terms with reality that could result in a ‘State Pact’ with Rajoy all the better. If they revert to a slinging match and literally try to ‘veto’ all of the new government’s reforms, then my friends let the last person turn off the lights!
Finally there is the country’s ‘total’ debt. I tell you my friends, nobody knows for sure how much money is owed, where it is owed, by whom and how in the hell it is going to be paid off if the economy for the next couple of years is zero, the unemployed continue to rise whilst whole families queue for a daily meal at the local Catholic dosshouses or beg outside the bakeries for a few shekels to buy a bun. Brussels doesn’t have a clue either.
I tell you man, I’m scared!
© James Skinner. December 12th 2011.
Spain's Future within the EU?
James Skinner - Part 1
As this may be my last report on this fantastic and once lovable European country at a very crucial stage of its contemporary political history I thought it would be important to divide it into two sections; a past and a future.