SPAIN AND THE CRISIS
Two hundred billion euros. That was the lifeline, they told the president when the sky began to overcast. 200,000 million euros was the debt margin available to the Kingdom of Spain in the spring of 2008, without infringing the third mandate of the Euro Law (“your public debt will never exceed 60% of the gross domestic product “). 200,000 million euros are twenty points of Spanish statistical wealth. They are a cabalistic figure: 33.3 billion of the old pesetas. They are the rope that today caresses the neck of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
With the rope in his neck, but with his feet still on the unstable platform, the president has broken the seventh seal: in recent weeks he has gone to seek the opinion and advice of Miguel Boyer, Minister of Economy in the first government of Felipe González, conspicuous liberal (although a supporter of Keynes), hated by the guerristas and defender of the economic policy of the Aznarato. Boyer has agreed to give advice, in exchange for not appearing publicly in the council of wise men of the presidency of the European semester along with Felipe González, Jacques Delors and Pedro Solbes . Zapatero’s mobile phone can not cope. Other veterans of the PSOE of the eighties are being consulted. Each time more papers are entrusted to the reviled old guard.
John Maynard Keynes, champion of public spending. How much Keynes fits in the current Spanish tribulation? That is the question. Solbes and Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez put their hands to their heads when they were informed of the Keynesian festival that part of Zapatero’s circle of trust ( Miguel Sebastián, Elena Salgado, José Blanco …) theorized in response to the crisis in 2008 An exemplary social-democratic Spain would resort to its sound public debt to mitigate the damages of the storm. There were umbrellas to protect everyone. Or almost everyone. Spain was going to set an example. Solbes no longer believed in the soft landing and sensed that the unemployment bill and the fall in tax collection would create an explosive cocktail.
More severe, the governor of the Bank of Spain already advocated iron surgery (structural reforms, according to the fashionable euphemism) before the abrupt collapse of the expansive cycle. Attracted by the role of social democrat hero in a world torn apart, excited by the victory of Barack Obama in the United States and very attentive to the Bonapartist successes of his friend Nicolas Sarkozy in France, Zapatero let Solbes go, he withdrew the word to Fernández Ordóñez and he threw to the four winds the bullfighter’s cry: “Leave me alone!”.
Seduced by the heroic vision of the crisis, the president took command of economic policy in the ministerial reshuffle of April 2009, placing in the second vice presidency a self-sacrificing Elena Salgado who will never take the opposite. In the new Cabinet, no one takes the opposite. There is hardly any debate at the meetings of the Council of Ministers: the good days are given, the matters approved by the undersecretaries are dispatched and until next Friday. Only José Blanco insinuates himself as an increasingly autonomous figure, but we will see that later. Sheltered by María Teresa Fernández de la Vega and Salgado, two women delivered body and soul to the government, two Stakhanovites who will never fabulate with the possibility of displacing the number one, Zapatero has taken to the extreme the presidential substance of the Spanish democratic regime.
Almost a year after the last ministerial reshuffle, the scaffolding – half social-democratic, half Bonapartist; half obamist, half caudillista- is falling apart before the look between astonished and shocked of a society that now, when the bell of pensions has sounded, begins to get a full idea of the depth of the crisis in Spain. And Zapatero, heroic social-democrat, wears a nice rope around his neck.
The costs of unemployment insurance and additional subsidies, plus the plummeting VAT collection, have pierced the Keynesian shield that Minister Miguel Sebastián, for months the President’s main valid, believed unbreakable. The year 2009 has been provisionally closed with a public deficit of 11.4%, which some sources maintain that it will reach 12% when the definitive data are known within a few days. A Greek deficit . A deviation of two points that leaves a hole of 20,000 million in the accounts of the State (without adding to that figure the worrying and opaque budget mismatch of the autonomous communities and municipalities, in some cases on the verge of bankruptcy https://www.facebook.com/DebtAdvisorsLawOffices/); a disaster that could hardly go unnoticed in the circuit of powers and intrigues also known as international markets.
Since the British magazine The Economist published in November of last year a special issue with the eloquent title of Spain, the party’s over (Spain, the party is over), Spain is under suspicion in the circuits of Anglo-Saxon opinion, in the that the derogatory acronym PIGS (pigs) has been coined to gather Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain in the same squad of suspects.
The PIGS thing hurts. Zapatero is convinced that there is a conspiracy of Anglo-Saxon conservatism to discredit the euro, taking Spain as a scapegoat. The president reads the translations of The Wall Street Journal, the most incisive newspaper with his management, and cannot ignore that José María Aznar is an advisor to News Corporation, the gigantic media group of Rupert Murdoch, owner of the old and influential newspaper of Wall Street Dan Brown in the Moncloa? A neoconservative plot to break the planetary constellation between Obama and Zapatero? A movement of dark forces to plug the social democratic response to the crisis? Every conspiracy theory has its faults.
There are voices on the left among the most severe diagnoses of the Spanish crisis. With an interval of a few months, Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and a point of reference for progressive thinking, has launched two frightening warnings: he warned that Spaniards should lower their salaries by 25% in order to get out of the quagmire and
the situation in Spain may be more dangerous for the European Union than Greece (much worse in accounting terms) given the greater Iberian size. The idea that Spain is the new sick man in Europe has been spreading like an oil stain. Today there is a European consensus on that image. And the vice president of the European Commission, Joaquín Almunia, former secretary general of the PSOE and for years faithful squire of Felipe González, riveted it on Wednesday publicly paragating Spain and Portugal with Greece. In the Moncloa, they want to strangle him.
The heroic scaffolding is falling apart. Devoid of an economic vice president with an autonomous voice and voice capable of attracting on his head the rays of Jupiter, the City, the CEOE, the unions, the press of Murdoch, Aznar and the entire Dark Side of the Force , Zapatero’s credibility, already seriously deteriorated by his delay in admitting the crisis, is currently charred.
The Spaniards have stopped loving him, although they recognize his conciliatory mood. The last barometer of the CIS (January 2010) reveals an extraordinary rejection: 71% declare to feel little or no confidence in the President of the Government. Neither Suarez, nor Gonzalez, nor Aznar never fell so low. There is only one person who overcomes him. Mariano Rajoy, leader of the opposition, does not inspire great confidence to 76% of respondents. This is the drift of Spain: four million unemployed people, a galloping public deficit, problems of solvency, stunting the issuance of public debt, the absence of horizons and a political establishment under suspicion. Heading towards the coasts of Greece, in spite of the firmness of the banker Emilio Botín asking for tranquility and confidence.
The shield of 200,000 euros and a leadership that sought mimesis with Obama and Sarkozy are disrupted. We have to cut costs and parallel leaders begin to emerge, such as that of White Minister announcing Friday, with a stern voice,
the guantazo to the air traffic controllers. It is no longer a secret: the deputy secretary general of the PSOE is emerging as a spare part. Blanco denies it, but his gestures confirm it. Other voices point to the Basque Patxi López, today in sweet hours.
Stunned by the incredible management of the future of pensions (a chain failure of the two vice presidents, which leaves them dismasted), by the fraying of the European presidency, by polls and by the foreign press, Zapatero tries to find an exit to the labyrinth. Greek drift or surgery. Two Minotaurs lie in wait for him: the irreversible discredit and the general strike.