Austerity policies revive the ghost of 'two Spains'
ANALYSIS: The Spanish prime minister will use his party’s Galician victory as a lever to introduce still more cutbacks, writes PADDY WOODWORTH
SPAIN’S RULING Partido Popular (PP) and its leader, prime minister Mariano Rajoy, could be forgiven for just a little self-congratulation this week. They can celebrate a clear-cut victory in elections to the Galician autonomous parliament last Sunday, despite the unpopularity of their austerity policies in national opinion polls.
But they must know that they need to go easy on the champagne. Spain remains locked into a deepening triple crisis, threatening economic, social and national disintegration and conflict.
Just for the moment, though, even the stolid Rajoy might permit himself a brief swagger in the EU’s corridors of power. The man whom other European leaders treated dismissively in his early months in power last spring has held his nerve.
He has thrown a book of devastating cutbacks at a stunned and sometimes angry Spanish populace, before negotiating an EU bailout, and still won an election. And in Galicia, the re-elected PP government had been particularly assiduous in imposing local austerity measures.
Moreover, Rajoy was personally responsible for what many observers regard as the crass mismanagement of the disastrous Prestige oil spillage off Galicia’s coast a decade ago, when he was deputy prime minister. The trial of the ship’s captain and three other defendants in the case finally began just last week.
And yet the voters gave Rajoy’s party an increased absolute majority there. You might think the man had invented Teflon, and amnesia.
Meanwhile, his only major opposition, the Socialist Party (PSOE) continued its nationwide implosion at the Galician polls. It is now clear that it will not be a realistic alternative Spanish government for the foreseeable future. And, unlike Angela Merkel, Rajoy does not even need to please any coalition partner.
The euphoric mood at PP headquarters on Sunday night suggested that, if you wanted the number for Europe’s hardball champion, you just needed to call Rajoy.
No one should know better than the prime minister, however, that such euphoria is badly misplaced. He doesn’t even need to look as far as Sunday’s other autonomous election, where radical and moderate Basque nationalists took an aggregate majority, to know that there are truckloads of trouble coming down the Spanish tracks.
And even in Galicia, homeland of iconic Spanish rightists such as the former dictator, General Franco, and former Francoist minister (and PP founder) Manuel Fraga, a newly militant opposition to austerity is rising. A recently formed coalition, the Galician Alternative of the Left (AGE), took nine seats and third place there on Sunday.
Its public face is Xosé Manuel Beiras (76), a long-time Galician nationalist leader and passionate socialist orator.
The coalition, which includes remnants of the once-powerful Communist Party, was immediately dubbed the Syriza of the Spanish northwest, referencing the powerful hard left party that has sprung to prominence in Greece.
Beiras, a grizzled veteran with iconic combative features, told mass meetings that the misery caused by Rajoy’s cutbacks constituted a “state of emergency”. His unabashed anti-capitalist message found a big echo in the electorate, with AGE surging into second place in major urban centres such as A Coruña, Santiago and Ferrol.
Beiras’s rhetoric will not deter Rajoy in the least from using the PP’s Galician victory as a lever to introduce still more cutbacks. The economy is still full of black holes. The prime minister knows that Spain, or at least its banks, needs a full-scale EU-ECB-IMF bailout.