Spain's enthusiasm for EU dwindles as austerity bites
Spaniards are beginning to question the EU, many for the first time, writes GUY HEDGECOEin Madrid
AT THE start of the 20th century, philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset said: “Spain is the problem. Europe is the solution.” And when Spain eventually joined the European Union in 1986, it did so with gusto, becoming one of the bloc’s big beneficiaries and among its most enthusiastic members.
But these days, as the euro zone economic crisis bites, Spaniards are wondering if Europe isn’t the problem.
“We’ve seen benefits from being part of the EU, there’s no question, but we’re paying the price for that now,” said José Bermudez, who works as a janitor in a block of flats in Madrid. “A lot of people are starting to ask whether being part of the EU is a good idea.”
A recent poll showed that only 55 per cent of Spaniards now see membership of the EU as positive, down from 80 per cent just three years earlier.
“People feel the EU is not responding to their needs and fears, that it doesn’t have the appropriate mechanisms to fight the crisis,” said Josep Lobera, a senior analyst at Metroscopia, which carried out the study.
Circumstances have forced Spaniards to wonder about their future in the bloc in recent weeks as the country’s soaring borrowing costs have put it at the heart of the European debt crisis.
Spain has Europe’s highest unemployment rate at 24.4 per cent, a deficit of nearly 9 per cent of GDP and an economy that has fallen back into recession. In addition, a financial crisis sparked by the woes of the country’s fourth-largest lender Bankia has intensified talk of a possible international bailout.
Much of Spaniards’ new-found rejection of the EU is caused by the severe austerity programme the country is undergoing at the instigation of Brussels. The previous Socialist government of Jose Luis Zapatero introduced cuts and tax increases towards the end of his term and the new administration of conservative Mariano Rajoy has gone further in an attempt to slash the deficit in line with EU targets.
“Germany always seems to be imposing measures on us,” said Manuela Gonzalez, who owns a newspaper kiosk in Madrid.
“We need spending cuts, yes, but not as much as those that we’re seeing. I think it’s good for us being in the EU but we should have more weight within it, rather than the big economic powers like Germany and France always dominating it.”