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The International Writers Magazine: Comment

Vacation Time in Spain
James Skinner
This is the latest of my series on this country’s situation in the world’s present day fight against the international financial crisis.


All are caught in the Tsunami and Spain is no different. The action taken by each one however differs depending on attitude, mood and above all character. This is where the saying ‘Spain is different’ is ratified beyond any doubt. 

‘I know I’m quoting the obvious, but the country where I live has started its holiday season; and I mean the whole country. The kids have finished school, the universities have shut down, the government, although still around, is thinking more about its sabbatical and the rest have opened up the stores to let the tourists in. Hotels and bars are full, beaches are crowded, airports, railway stations, buses and highways are belching with people going off in all directions escaping the humdrum of their dreary unemployed lives and everything seems as if no economic crisis has ever taken place and it’s all a drummed up lie. Where I live, the fiestas have started. Each small hamlet within the city boundaries has its own set up where fireworks are blasted off advising the neighbourhood that the beer pumps are flowing, the wine bottles have been uncorked and the local razzmatazz pop group has just begun to blare away till sundown. All this cooped up firepower exploding around dozens of cooking fires riddled with pork ribs, sausages, sardines and the odd half lamb oozing delicious smells of delight. Young and old, decrepit and sexy tattooed youths, spinsters, divorcees and the occasional parish priest begin to spend the last of their pennies forgetting the woes of the past and not even thinking about those just around the corner. So why talk about anything else, other than the world cup miles away down in South Africa, where Spain is still ‘in there’ fighting its way to the final having knocked out Portugal and heading for the quarter finals.

I suppose in a way one has to be serious at some stage, after all Spain is part of the European Union and the Euro zone and if you’ve read my previous essays is in one hell of a bloody all round mess let alone a financial one. It’s true that most other countries are also suffering from the economic meltdown. The new government in the UK seems to think so; so does Germany, not to mention France and Italy, as all these major players have announced austerity plans that have triggered off the horsemen of the Apocalypse down the remaining stretches of the Kentucky Derby. Cuts in spending in all directions that will only cause further suffering and who knows; more unemployment?

Back to Spain and what have we got? Much of the same except that the government has finally come up with proposed legislation to restructure the labour market; a bone of contention that has been at the heart of Spain’s deterioration in productivity and competitiveness over the past few years. Every world economic forum, from the World Bank to the OECD, from the International Monetary Fund to the smallest of financial consulting firms focused on this country’s problems has been screaming for change. Most of it boils down to strict employment rules ie; firms cannot get rid of bad employees without going through the courts and firms are too scared to take on new ones. Then you’ve got the incredible welfare state that has been built up over the years of Socialist governments since the end of the Dictatorship. It is beginning to crumble like a pack of cards because it is unsustainable. Add a credit squeeze to the pot and bingo, you’ve got meltdown! Ever since the crisis started two years ago the Prime Minister, Rodriguez Zapatero has refused to even ‘mention the war’ on labour reform. He didn’t even admit that there was a crisis until a few months ago. His sidekicks, the major trade unions, have been kept at bay with lots of handouts and subsidies whilst the unemployment figures continued to rise, yet they don’t like the terms and have threatened a general strike but not until September. I told you! Everyone is on holiday including the ‘workers’! Unfortunately the dole money is now running out and before the end of the year over one million families will have all their members out of work and no income whatsoever.

The end result however is a new law on employment, or sacking, take your pick that nobody wants or understands. It still has to be ratified by the Spanish parliament. Ah, but the EU is happy and given ZP a medal! He’s done something at last! Trouble is civil unrest is just sitting there waiting to explode. Mark my word, Greece’s similar problem is peanuts compared to this country.   

Another arena.

Spain has ended its six monthly stint as the Presidency of the European Council of Ministers. What does this mean? That the Spanish government has been in the limelight and although it has tried to influence the rest of the European ‘dreamers’ on certain issues like opening the doors to Cuban relations or introducing new equality rulings for woman, nothing much else has happened. They more or less told Spain to shut up because everyone in Brussels was too engrossed in the economic troubles of the continent. We are back to that again! 

Then we have the ‘side-issues’ as I call them, that are used as red herrings in the political arena. I think we know the script. Whenever a government is hammered because of economic woes, out come more white rabbit tricks and the entire media side step into a ding-dong match of who’s to blame in the new fistfight. The politicians become spectators shouting and screaming at each other whilst pushing the real issues under the carpet. Here goes!

We all know about the most taboo of issues affecting Europe at the moment. I mean the use of the Burka in public places by Islamic women. Realising it is a very delicate subject; suffice to say that what has happened in Spain is more in line with who is responsible for a decision. The banning started in some small towns in Catalonia and the central government suddenly realised that what seemed to be a local problem was turning into a national one. So, the discussions going on at the moment are more in line with whom should be responsible for what; a buck passing game, if you know what I mean. The funny side is that the Ministry of Equality (for women) lead by a young ‘Superwoman’ that thinks that all men should be castrated, hasn’t even shown her face. The saga continues.

Next we have a real battle between a new right-wing newspaper that has recently sprung up called La Gaceta and the President of the Spanish Parliament a Mr. Bono. Appears that this gentleman, who used to be the President of the autonomous region of Castilla and La Mancha, has accumulated over the years of his political life a wealth of over 6 million Euro and refuses to justify it. He even owns a ‘dubious’ horse racing course that was not only subsidised in a dark and roundabout way by the regional government, but actually employs illegal immigrants. Again, total denial! The newspaper has brought it out into the open. In the meantime, the taxman is keeping very quiet on the whole affair. Why do I bring this up? Tax evasion is a major issue in Spain and for the first time in centuries citizens are beginning to realise that their yearly contributions are at the heart of the scandals of corruption and are questioning all government departments with ‘what are you doing with my money?’ This could, in effect be the best thing that happens in Spain since sliced bread. Just to recap, recent statistics reveal that moonlighting has risen to over 25% of GDP. If you wish to pay your plumber or your hairdresser we’re back to the old question, ‘with or without VAT, Sir?’

The banking system is still under scrutiny, especially the Savings Banks. For months and months the press has been reporting on the political battle for top control in the unavoidable and eventual amalgamation of dozens of entities into a slimmer set up for money suppliers. Trouble is that the ‘small print’ barely goes unnoticed. Hundreds of offices and thousands of employees will be disappear and what is even worse, nobody is talking about the banking pension funds, stretched alike all other that will have to support the layoffs. Added to this bombshell is the thousands of properties that are now on the banks’ books that nobody wants. Finally these unique institutions have, for over a century, subsidised all kinds of so called ‘social services’ to the community in the form of museums and concert halls to give examples. Bye-bye Rolling Stone concerts or Picasso exhibitions in small provincial towns. None of this is ever mentioned in the heated build up to the banking meltdown which happens to have reached the deadline; end of June.

Ah! I forgot about the most important event so far. The Constitutional Court of Spain has ratified, barring some articles, the new Statutes of Autonomy for Catalonia. What does this mean? That this autonomous region is now on the road to seeking independence from Spain. When is anybody's guess, but it has now opened up Pandora’s box for the others in line seeking a break away from the mother country, the Basque Country and Galicia (where I live); could be the start of the break up of Spain. Balkans here we come! This is hot news straight off the press but as I said at the beginning, Spain is now on holiday so as Bugs Bunny in Looney Tunes would say ‘That’s all folks!’

© James G. Skinner. July1st 2010.

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