The International Writers Magazine: Our Spanish Correspondent
Time's Up in Spain
The inevitable has happened. Apart from a few odd municipalities and three autonomous regions there was an overwhelming Conservative Party (PP) victory in Spain’s recent elections.
For the first time in the seven years of Socialist government power, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero admitted that his party had taken a beating despite all the wonderful social benefits that he had been introducing over his period in office. However, the Basque Separatist Party Bildu, that was allegedly declared illegal by the Spanish Supreme Court, later overruled by the Constitutional Court because of its link to ETA, obtained surprise victories in over fifty municipalities. This has put the cat amongst the pigeons as not only will they now receive national funding that some pundits say will go straight into the coffers of the terrorist movement but has opened the speculation gates that the government had been secretly negotiating a peace deal for months that ZP hoped would put a real feather in his cap for the forthcoming General elections in 2012. The whole scenario has now changed!
Yet a phenomenon occurred just before the citizens went to the polls.
Enter the 15M movement as it is known in Spain!
A week before the elections, on the 15th of May, and thanks to the vast personal networks on the Internet hundreds of thousands of young and not so young Spaniards decided to start a collective 24-hour ‘sit-in’ in protest against all the ills of the country and beyond. Most main city squares throughout Spain, including Madrid and Barcelona were inundated with protesters asking for a complete change to the ‘system’ including new voting methods, control on banks and a real approach to the labour problems. The media as well as the political parties were boycotted and excluded from the areas and although most of the far left wing lot tried to capitalise on the event it soon became obvious that this was another cry of today’s humanity that carried the banner of, ‘enough is enough’. The news spread across the world comparing it to the uprisings in the Arab world, especially Egypt. Others recalled the 68’s student rioting in France. Most Spaniards were sympathetic to the cause. ‘At last the citizens are speaking out!’ said one journalist. Even the government kept the riot squads away despite the Election Committee declaring the whole affair as illegal.
But to really understand what this amounted to once again we must back track in history.
Spaniards are used to all kinds of public protests ever since democracy took over thirty years ago. Anything from animal rights to domestic violence, anti-Americanism, to felling of city trees can cause numerous street demonstrations that generally outnumber the days in the yearly calendar. Trade unions, university students, umpteen number of associations of all colours in the rainbow take to the streets in the name of whatever tickles their fancy and generally create havoc ending up in traffic jams and property vandalism. Added to this Spanish pastime are the weekend ‘booze-ups’ known as ‘Botellon’. Years ago, because of the rise in disco prices, teenagers began to congregate in city and town parks loaded with vodka and coke to hold their own outdoor party. These events grew like Topsy throughout the country whilst the authorities gave it a blind eye. Although the 15M started off as a proper protest it has now turned into yet another type of ‘Botellon’ but this time without the booze. In other words, Spain is and has been used to public areas being taken over, regardless of the reasons. They are protected by the Spanish Constitution as an acquired ‘citizen’s right’. Nevertheless, once the elections were over, the riot squad in Barcelona started busting up the congregation whereas the Madrid authorities held back the truncheons. Why they are still there is anybody’s guess as the main body of genuine moaners has petered out and the new bunch that’s taken over are deemed ‘layabouts’ by local shopkeepers who are losing money hand over fist because of loss in daily trade.
So what’s next?
Simple; there is mayhem within the Socialist Party (PSOE) whilst the opposition sits back and contemplates its navel. ZP is definitely in for the chop although he has ‘appointed’ as his successor the present Minister of the Interior, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba as his choice of candidate. The Party has reluctantly accepted. Nevertheless, the knives are out and there could still be a change once the ‘Primaries’ are celebrated around mid-June. Others in race could range from the President of the Congress, José Bono to the President of the Basque country, Patxi Lopez. Whilst the political infighting has just begun, and the country waits for the outcome everyone is asking, ‘will there be a call for a general election in October to sort the mess out once and for all?’ Big question!
But what about the economy?
Here comes the real sad issue which was probably the reason behind the ‘sit-ins’ that were kicked off during the month! Spain’s unemployment still stands at 20% and rising. There will be a respite during the summer months thanks to the European and other tourists flocking the holiday resorts. October or November will be hard hit yet again. But the real tragedy is that one out of every two youngsters between twenty and thirty is also on the dole. As I stated earlier, university students are graduating and then leaving the country or filling in slot jobs at supermarket check-out desks. The immigration population is being hit hard as thousands of South Americans now out of work are begging outside bakeries and grocery stores. What is even worse is that the International Monetary Fund issued a warning some month’s back that Spain was about to lose a whole generation only to be confirmed a couple of weeks ago by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that unless the country did something about the young the country would face dire problems. The OECD went one step further and said that Spain, even with supposed economic growth could not return to the employment rate of 2007 until 2026. In fifteen years time! On the other hand Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor issued a further warning that Spain had to ‘work more’ and ‘cut back on holidays’. What she meant was, ‘cut out the ‘botellones’, reduce absenteeism, and free the labour market.’ As the opposition leader said just after the elections, ‘we need to restore confidence both in the international arena as well as our citizens.’
No need to add the rest of the sombre picture such as chaos in the banking system with savings banks littered with toxic assets, lack of agreement between enterprise and trade unions, the latter adamant in maintaining a ‘fictitious’ and unsustainable welfare state and once again, a non existent government until the PSOE puts its house in order.
So what about Europe?
The European Union is still blind to what is actually going on in Spain, despite all the macro-economic mumbo jumbo that the Government keeps waffling on about in Brussels. All the figures that are bounced about such as deficit, public debt, reforms and other niceties should be placed on the back burner. Spain needs to take a hard look at itself and produce a proper audit as to who owes what to whom (town councils versus suppliers, autonomies versus central government and vice versa), how much duplication of bureaucracy is really hitting hard at the Spanish economy and how it can be reduced, come to grips with the trade union dictatorship and, above all tackle the corruption that is now being uncovered and rampant throughout the country regardless of political colour. Once these factors are addressed then, and only then can they go to the Commission with a true picture of their economic situation. If nothing is done soon, as I have stated all along, Spain will drag down the Euro and who knows, the rest of the Union.
The country does end the month on the crest of a wave however. Barcelona beat Manchester United in the European Champions football tournament. As one right wing commentator put it, ‘pity our politicians are not in the same league!’
© James Skinner. May 29th 2010.
Crucial Month For Spain
The main opposition party, the conservative PP continues to rant and rave about the whole bloody mess the country is in, starting with the corruption scandals in Andalucía, a socialist fiefdom, that have squandered millions of Euros