Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Trouble still looming in the sun

Spain, a country dear to my heart, is in trouble. Not from its unreformed labour laws and resulting two-tier labour market, its borrowing binges on cheap Euro interest rates or even its burst property bubble, the combination of which has resulted in an astonishing 20% unemployment - although none of these have helped the situation.

No, the BBC's Gavin Hewitt pinpointed the real problem in a post yesterday - the prime minister himself. While it pains me to say this of one of the few remaining leaders on the left in Europe, Zapatero is very far indeed from cutting the proverbial mustard. While he has made good progress on social issues, such as the Spanish national disease of domestic violence, or human rights, on economic matters he has continued to be on the back foot throughout his six years in office. This was shown most keenly a couple of weeks ago when, after denying there was a need for economic reform for many months, he was finally kicked into action only by a call from Barack Obama (who had previously ignored most of Zapatero's efforts to be friends).

It's worse than that, however. There is no replacement for Zapatero: within his party he is without serious challengers minded to challenge, he faces a feeble opposition in Rajoy's PP and, in any case, no-one wants a change of prime minister in a situation where a currency or banking collapse could have disastrous consequences across Europe. So until, with painful slowness, Spain can be pulled back from the brink enough to allow a smooth transfer of power to someone more competent, it's stuck with him.

If you ever needed a reason why the old, corporatist Euro-model of the 70s and 80s is dead, you have only to look on the dead hand on this country's tiller. Europe, as a political entity, needs to be there as a means of working together and forging alliances, not as the paean to our taking responsibility for our own countries.

And, by the way, this affects all of us, not just the Spanish. If Spain were to go down, the consequences could be felt across Europe for many years to come. It is, after all, no longer a poor country on the margins of Europe.

It's the world's ninth largest economy.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Thank you and goodnight, David Laws

Ah, the "new politics", where all political misbehaviour was to come to an end. Oh, for the bright halcyon days of early May.

It was good while it lasted - about 18 days - wasn't it?
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