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The International Writers Magazine: Spain in the 21st Century

Crucial Month in Spain
James Skinner
Great deal of horrific news continues to fill the world media despite a respite with the Royal Wedding in the UK that was a breath of fresh air. William looked OK but Kate! Wow, what a lady! But let’s get back to business and to my main theme in Hacks over the past few months – Spain.

Police car

I intend to keep it short for a very simple reason. On the 22nd of May the country goes to the polls to vote for town council leaders and presidents for the thirteen out of seventeen autonomous regions. The future political scenario is dependent on the results because, above everything else that has taken place over the past few weeks, our President, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced that he would not stand for re-election as his party’s leader in 2012, just under a year away. He has literally put the cat amongst the pigeons as, apart from the incredible economic mess that the country is in he’s added a new ‘fight’ that will now take place within his own socialist party, the PSOE with the obvious question on everyone’s lips. Who will replace him?

So, let’s start with a brief update. 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 of both public and European funds over the past thirty years followed by the undercover negotiations that have been going on between the government and ETA, the Basque terrorists. This lot recently had a shoot-out in France injuring a French policeman, although the bandits say it was just an unfortunate mishap. Added to the terrorist mayhem is the squabble as to whether their ‘new’ offshoot political party known as Bilu is allowed to run for some town councils in the Basque country in the up and coming elections. Meanwhile, several ETA jailbirds have been given a reprieve and have since disappeared adding to the furore of behind the scenes skulduggery by the government – according to the opposition. Opposition forces are breaking their backs to arrive at a truce, come hell or high water and at all costs to end Spain’s decades old fight against the Basque murderers. It would really be a feather in their caps in eyes of the outside world. So the government hopes! Meanwhile, the judiciary system that is allowing all this circus is causing discomfort amongst the average Spaniard who feels that the legal system is just not working, democratically speaking, of course!

The unemployment figures have once again risen in April, but this time have ‘almost’, by just a small fraction, reached the 5 Million mark and stands at 21% of the working population with more than 40% of young Spaniards out of work, thus hitting an all time high. The result is a continued drain on the social security’s dole system with its obvious repercussion on the country’s public budget resulting in an increase in the deficit and national debt. I’ve always refrained from economic analysis as I am not an expert, but anyone with two cents worth of savvy can see that if the money continues to roll out without a corresponding input the result is ‘bankruptcy’ and that is what the whole country, its banking system and the rest of the caboodle is beginning to show as the weeks go by and there is no remedy in sight of any economic growth.

The main banks, Santander and BBVA have had a fall in their profits although continue to make money and refuse to open the credit lines. This adds fuel to the closure of small and medium businesses that cannot obtain the necessary loans to even continue alive. Firms shut down; workers go on the dole, mortgage foreclosures increase and the bad debts increase. The savings banks – I’ve been saying this for months – are totally bankrupt and ZP, the president has tried his hardest to influence the Chinese and the rich Arabs to invest in them. So far only trickles of petrodollars or yens seem to be coming this way. It’s a vicious circle no one is able to crack.

Meanwhile, the trade unions continue to blame everyone but themselves for the country’s problems. Remember Peter Sellers famous speech in 'I'm alright Jack', ‘What about the workers?’ Well, fifty years later it’s on every Spaniards’ lips. The labour reforms that Spain urgently needs have been presented to Brussels together with other ‘cures’ time after time during the Minister, Helena Salgado’s visits, but are all hogwash and ‘pie in the sky’. In other words, they are just not working. When she returns to Madrid, ZP just ignores her and continues with his everyday rhetoric about how everything will eventually turn around.

On a separate front, the education system is suffering from dry rot as more a more kids drop out of school and the failure rate increases. Even university students with very high qualifications are just about able to find the odd job well below their skills level either behind a ‘tapas bar’ counter selling ‘plonk’ to the British tourists or clonking at a cash register in the remaining supermarkets that are still operating. Beggars are everywhere and although social unrest has not yet hit the streets thanks to the massive moonlighting, over one million persons have no income whatsoever.

But a glimmer of light has appeared on the horizon. Because of the unrest in many of Europe’s favourite holiday spots such as Egypt or Morocco the feeling is that Spain will have a boost in its tourist trade this summer with more and more Europeans flocking the usual sunny beaches and night time rumpus spots along Spain’s vast coastline. Particular emphasis is being placed in areas such as the Baleareics or the Canary islands and if all goes well ZP will be able to boast at last of ‘green shoots’ appearing in his back yard garden. Unfortunately, this would only be a small reprieve to what the opposition party says will hit hard in the later quarter of the year when the sun has gone and the rains arrive.

As I stated at the beginning, until the election party is over and the results show whether or not the governing party, the PSOE still has a following or whether early national elections are called for – possibly in October - the future destiny of this country is still uncertain and cannot be predicted. Whichever way one looks at the scenario, it's bleak and will take years to recover regardless of who takes over in the long run.
© James Skinner. May 2011
Panic in Spain
James Skinner

Panic. This is how I see the present situation in Spain resulting from the latest ‘off the cuff’ decisions taken by the Zapatero government to ease the continuing economic pain that this country is suffering.

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