Greek crisis fuelling anxiety as contagion concerns spread
Spain keen to be seen as the ‘good student’ in the euro zone classroom
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias embraces Panayota Maniou, a member of the Syriza delegation to the European Parliament, during a demonstration in Madrid in support of Greece. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters
José Ignacio Ripoll (54), an architect, has been following the Greek crisis from Madrid over the past few months and he doesn’t like what he sees.
“It’s going to affect Spain, ” he says, of the possibility of economic contagion. “It’s already directly affecting us. We worry when we read the newspapers every day. Yes, we’re worried about this.”
This helps explain prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s confidence when he appeared before the press alongside former French president Nicolas Sarkozy earlier this week.
“What’s happening in Greece won’t happen in Spain because this is a trustworthy country,” Rajoy was quoted as saying.
But Ripoll, like many Spaniards, doesn’t buy the conservative government’s message of recovery, and his scepticism is heightened by the fact that he works in property, one of the industries that suffered most during the double-dip recession.
“I’ve read that things are getting better in terms of the macro-economy and that we are creating jobs, but we really don’t see this day-to-day,” he says.
Economist Javier Díaz Giménez of the IESE business school in Madrid, says that amid the Greek crisis, Spain, with the backing of the European authorities, is determined to forge a reputation as a disciplined member of the euro zone.
“They need a good student in the classroom and right now Spain is that student,” he said. The Spanish government, he added, is desperate to make the austerity it has overseen for the past four years look like “a major policy success,” even though public debt remains high and unemployment is at 24 percent.
With a general election in Spain expected later this year, the Greek crisis is already playing a small but visible part in Spanish politics. The governing Popular Party (PP) has sought to underline the economic progress it claims it has overseen, while flagging up the Greek-style dangers awaiting voters if they back other parties. Rajoy was seen as trying to turn the Greek situation to his advantage this week when he described Podemos, the new anti-austerity party which has a close relationship with the Greek governing party, as “Syriza-Podemos”.
Although the PP suffered badly in last month’s regional and municipal elections, with the left dominating in many parts of the country, it is possible that the Greek crisis could scare voters away from its political rivals, particularly the untested Podemos.
“Ultimately, they’re the same idea, Podemos and those who are in power in Greece, aren’t they?” she said.
“I am worried that those who have taken up new political posts might take us towards a situation like that of Greece.”