By James G. Skinner
Spaniards are fed up! They are fed up of political bickering, government statements of ‘the end of recession’, independence pleas by regional nationalists, banking disorders, corruption in practically every sector of the community, be it political parties, town councils, trade unions – who have been very quiet by the way – individual tax evaders and above all, members of the royal family.I would say that society has reached the point of no return and are asking those in decision making positions to come clean, begin to kick start the economy and stop the rot once and for all. In other words they are clamouring for food on the table and jobs for the breadwinners. With an unemployment rate of over 26% and little signs of reducing in the near future, university graduates fleeing north and small firms shutting down on a daily basis, I couldn’t agree more. There have been many demonstrations throughout the country on all kinds of matters. Not uncommon if one opens the news columns on other countries in Europe, especially Greece and Portugal, but the usual effect and result is the same. Honest citizens take to the streets only to open the door to the ultra-violent – on all sides of political ideology – and the police take over with the usual bully tactics to disperse the crowds. So what’s the answer?
It’s been some time since I first brought out the real problem issues in Spain after the so called world crisis began. I said that apart from the economy, this country suffered from a deep rooted geo-political problem that has been festering for at least twenty years. Whilst the money rolled in from European funds and tourism, every sector of government was on a spending spree, the banks were on a joy ride lending money left right and centre boosting construction beyond control and everyone felt that there was no tomorrow. Meanwhile the political cauldron was brewing. Eventually the bubble burst, the party ended and the hangover set in.
My geo-political observations and recommendations in previous editions are at this moment truer than ever, especially as one of my key points is now being brought out in more than one chat show and think tank asking for a revision of the Constitution and, above all a ‘state pact’ between the two major parties to set out a proper road map to save Spain from falling apart. Believe me it is real serious.
The socialists (PSOE) and conservatives (PP) hold the majority of seats in parliament and, apart from the ‘rebel’ regions of Catalonia and the Basque country, in most of the autonomous ones. The thousands of town councils are in a similar situation. Problem is that the whole democratic system in Spain, ever since the end of the dictatorship is based on so called ‘opposition’. This means that whatever the party in power wishes to introduce, be it a new law, a change in budget, introduction of reforms, as is the present case due to the crisis, it is the duty of all others ‘not in power’ to oppose the leaders.
This may appear as normal in most democracies but in Spain it has always been a ‘no’ to any government proposal no matter who is in the seat of power. Every head of a political party, wherever they may be based and no matter how small – republicans, regional nationalists, communists, independents, obscure hard left mixtures - is in on the act and many, thanks to coalitions have a certain clout in decision making. Think of this lot as holding the – in finance jargon – ‘golden share’. There was a certain amount of decorum in the daily parliamentary, regional and local political sessions but this has moved from common sense dialogue to a gutter style slinging match. Gone are the days of educated political rhetoric now replaced with outright heavy insulting from all sides. Let’s give a few examples.
The government managed to push through a new education law that will increase productivity, in other words properly educated youngsters. Thanks to opposition politicians, their lobbies and the majority of the media, the whole country was against it, despite the fact that Spain’s education system is on the rocks and needs a tremendous overhaul. Mustn’t forget we’ve got the co–official language problem of Catalan, Basque and Galician fighting for dominance in each respective region adding spice to the saga. A whole chapter would be required to once again report on this issue.
Next are the two National Insurance pillars, the health service and pensions. They are faced with a growing deficit and running out of money. A great deal of cutbacks is taking place, especially in pharmaceuticals as well as the privatisation of some hospitals services. Trouble is that years ago each autonomous region was allowed to run its own system and not all are playing to the same rules. The pension row has just started. Spain reckons that within a few years the number of geriatrics receiving their earned retirement cheque will double whilst the population will shrink. This sounds familiar in many parts of the world but once again the new rules to alter the retirement age as well as an increase in the number of years needed to earn a pension are slamming into a fierce opposition wall, heavy insults included.
Despite these moves in the right direction by the government and holding on as strong as they can, continuing on their path of reforms, they still haven’t tackled the major needed changes. These are a complete revision of the public sector (civil service other than health and education) that continues to be extremely top heavy and a reduction of bureaucracy that is hurting the private sector. It still takes months of paperwork to start up a small enterprise. And above all, reduce the labour costs (not necessarily salaries) allowing companies to hire staff and become more competitive in the modern world. If the banks are eventually sorted out and money begins to flow with credit for the entrepreneurs the economy might begin to shine. As stated previously, employment is still way out of sync. The IMF, EU and European Central Bank continue to lambast Spain to reduce the dreadful figure of dole bearers hitting the headlines every first of the month. But when?