••• The International Writers Magazine: From our Spanish Correspondent
Nostradamus in Spain
James Skinner on the future of Spain
After nearly a year, Spain has finally been able to form a coalition government between the Conservatives (PP) and Ciudadanos (the every-which-way party) with the abstention of the majority of the members of the Socialist (PSOE) party although eleven of these continue to pledge a ‘No is No’ and face the consequence of disobeying the status of their party. This latter situation is yet to be seen.
Sr. Rajoy (PP), went through the necessary protocols and was sworn in as President. The immediate effect was that the leader of the socialists, Sr. Pedro Sanchez not only resigned as secretary but also as a member of parliament. He has now pledged to embark on a sort of ‘vengeance’ campaign, as he feels his party has let him down, by touring the country drumming up support from nobody knows who and with what aim. However, certain statements and interviews with the media that he has carried out since have shown the nation that his true convictions were to join forces with all the left wing, including the extreme Podemos with which he had been having secret talks to overthrow Rajoy.
Meanwhile, Sr. Pablo Iglesias of Podemos organized a full blown demonstration outside the parliament and has vowed from now on to turn to the ‘streets’ as, in his words, the citizens demonstrating disapproval are the only true ‘members’ of a ‘democratic’ Spain. In his parliamentary replica speech during the debates approving or not the appointment of Sr. Rajoy he implied that the whole Spanish parliament was corrupt. Strong words. Again, what he intends to do in practice is yet to be seen.
So what happens now? One can only predict what steps are to be taken over the next four years. These will be in order of priorities, untouchables and uncertainties in hands of - at least - a constitutional government, one that upholds the Constitution and the State of Law, vital for the future of Spain and the European Union. As Sr. Federico Tessore, expert in political and economic affairs of the magazine ‘Global Investor’ stated, ‘Will the politicians now turn reasonable? After Sr. Rajoy’s investiture and the end of the circus act of the past year, the questions I keep asking myself are, ‘will it be possible that at last our politicians may act responsibly? Are we facing a new era of Spanish politics?’
Herewith a possible scenario.
No doubt that Spain’s economic situation has improved, especially over the past 18 months. Latest unemployment figures have dropped to below 20% for the first time since 2007. Because of international turmoil in other parts of the world Spanish tourism, once again hit a record high, creating thousands of extra jobs in the service industry. This in turn boosted other major industries to kick start and create further jobs and add to the all-important government tax income. Sr, Rajoy has stood firm on this issue and stated that his present policies to cut costs and increase revenue is paramount. How is another question mark? Prediction: He will do what has to be done and will not budge one inch from his economic program.
The 2017 Budget will now be approved to appease the EU regarding 2016/2017 especially considering the possible deficit fine should the infamous figure of 3% not be met. The upside is that Spain can now open the store for business with foreign investment that has been pending since the beginning of the year. A great number of mayor projects are waiting at the gates. The uncertainty will lie with Brexit and how Spain could either benefit or lose out depending on how the EU economy performs when Britain finally leaves the 28 nation club. Prediction: Anything can happen as world economy will also influence Spain’s.
This is also an immediate sector to be tackled. Education has always been a bone of contention for most democratic governments, especially the public sector. Spain’s is probably more complex and would need a special report to highlight the problems. To start with, education is in the hands of the 17 autonomous regions and each has their own system. Nevertheless, the main guidelines come from Madrid and as the EU (Bolonia) has been altering the overall picture, Spain is still struggling to sort their own program to adapt. At this time there is a major student and professor’s strike going on because of precisely this point in question. Prediction is that this conflict of interest will continue as always with constant changes as time goes by. The students will be the sufferers. (See also e. Social Services)
Regardless of the General Election results, this autonomous region has continued to pursue its own parliamentary decision to hold a referendum next year on independence from Spain. One can appreciate that this is ‘old hat’ news but it is probably the most spiny and tricky that the government will face regarding regional politics. The Spanish Supreme Court and its Constitutional off spin have declared it illegal and Catalonia a rebellious state. This is tantamount to a ‘State of siege’ in terms of legal babble. In other words, the government has the power to ‘send in the Cavalry’ if necessary. Naturally this will not occur, but the sore is festering nevertheless and the infection has spilled into The Basque Country and Galicia. Prediction is that the ultimate split will never occur. A possible change may take place if a true dialogue is opened and the Catalans are shown to be at an economic and political disadvantage, especially as the EU would never accept an independent state without going to the back of the queue. Brussels will step in, sooner or later to appease the situation.
Sr. Rajoy has vowed to maintain the sacred cow of the Spanish Welfare state. However, he has said in his inaugural speech that there will have to be ‘savings’ in order to balance the books. ‘We cannot spend more than we earn’. Nevertheless, healthcare, education and pensions are on the books. These take up more than 50% of the Spanish budget. It remains to be seen whether this will be achieved through ‘cuts’ (the dreaded word) or the raising of taxes. Prediction is that it will be a combination of both. The EU is seeking an increase in VAT and ‘cuts’ have a wide spectrum to play with.
Now this is one area that has never been dealt with before; a coalition between two parties than eventually signed an agreement with 150 sectors that Ciudadanos demanded in order to back the conservatives. Here is the catch, so far the details have not yet been made public. Prediction: Among the usual, some mentioned earlier, the important issues are the possible abolition of the country’s Deputations dating back to the XIX Century (they are an anomaly), the imposition of a single job contract thus throwing to the wind most of the labour laws, a pledge to literally wipe out once and for all political corruption from top to bottom and above all the pledge that Spain is one country, i.e. ‘Referendums verboten!’. We’ll see.
The other side of the coin. This populist party, led by Sr. Pablo Iglesias, together with Sr. Albert Ribera of Ciudadanos represent the two newcomers to the Spanish Parliament. Both are young players, born after the death of Franco and the dictatorship. Neither have suffered any hardships of the dictatorship and are what many pundits label as 'the new blood’. One is definitely a Social Democrat and the other a Bolivarian style revolutionist that blows with the wind intent on disrupting the nation in order to turn it into another Venezuela. The difference is that Sr. Iglesias is a very smart politician and through the modern media of television ‘chats’, Facebook and Twitter has managed, through previous local and regional elections to literally place his people in vast areas of the country such as town councils and autonomous regions. Madrid and Barcelona are typical example. In other words he already has tremendous power. Whilst Sr. Rivera is moderate and completely the opposite. At the moment, he does not have the clout that his extreme left wing rival has. Prediction: To start with Sr. Rajoy can still run rings round Podemos and is yet to name his own cabinet. No doubt he will also introduce ‘new young blood’ to counter act the revolutionary actions, i.e. strikes, street demonstrations and the like that will inevitable take place from now on. The shouting matches will definitely start when Parliament kicks off over the next 4 years.
Much has been reported above that is part of the political scenario. However, the main question mark now lies with the Socialists (PSOE) that are still in disarray following Sr. Pedro Sanchez’s removal and his continued vow to return from the ashes as a Phoenix. Prediction: There are fingers crossed amongst all the sensible persons of this country, population and politicians including the adversary conservative party (PP) that this party will return to its roots established over a 100 years ago. In other words, the PSOE will forget about the II Republic (1931-1936), the Civil War (1936-1939), the Franco dictatorship (1940-1975) and look towards the future as new born left of center Social Democrat.
There is one final issue that dates back to the early democracy. The continued attacks by ETA, the Basque Region terrorist organization that finally ended a few years ago when they won local and regional representation. Like Northern Ireland they are now legal. Prediction: The present regional government continues, through a coalition lead by the Nationalist Party (PNV). However, the ETA lot, known as Bildu and other factions are in bed with guess who? Podemos! I just have no words to predict whether this is a powder keg or whether it will just fizzle out. Still an ongoing Spanish mystery.
Nov 12th Update
We are mild and cautious for a simple reason. Spain has only recently formed a government after nearly a year of political haggling and infighting trying to strike deals with the opposition. Sr. Rajoy, the Prime Minister has sent a watered down congratulations message to the new US President-elect Donald Trump. What is significant is that he now has two new persons in key ministries that are Foreign Affairs - Sr. Alfonso María Dastis Quesedo - and Defence - Ms. Maria Dolores de Cospedal. Both are well prepared for the job as the former was Ambassador at the European Union and Ms. Cospedal President of the autonomous region of Castilla and La Mancha.
Meanwhile, Ms. Susana Diaz, the President of the Andalusia region has urged Donald Trump not to shut down the US bases in Spain - his pledge to sort out NATO - as they create a great deal of wealth in the area. The other reaction has come from Sr. Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the extreme left party Podemos (We can) who is obviously up in arms because of the upsurge of possible right wing movements in some countries, mainly France, Germany and Holland in Europe taking over in the forthcoming 2017 elections. A rather humorous caveat is that the ousted leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE), Sr. Pedro Sanchez flew to Washington to support Ms. Hillary Clinton's campaign prior to the elections. Nobody knows why nor did they care. Was covered briefly in the Spanish media as a mere anecdote.
© James Skinner Nov 12th 2016
Spain & Democracy
A new Government at last in Spain. But wait - it's the old Government ...
See you next month.