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.


  1. 這個時代,不缺乏感傷,但缺乏反思~~希望能多看到值得思考.................................................................

  2. So, what you're saying is - Zapatero isn't neoliberal enough?

  3. Nice try, but that's not what I'm saying at all - not all political issues are about right and left. This one's about competent versus not up to the job. If you reduce it to right versus left, it's like saying all Tories are equal because we don't agree with them, whereas any sensible person would rather have had Ken Clarke than George Osborne as Chancellor any day of the week. Not because I agree with Clarke, but because Osborne is a fool.

    At this stage in the Spanish story, I'd happily settle for an old-fashioned lefty whom I might not personally warm to, but who was competent and knew where he was going - a kind of Spanish Ken Livingstone, if you will - to what we have here: a man buffeted by events, whose lack of foresight and judgement is hurting his country.

  4. I don't particularly like spatial metaphors (left / right) as they make me feel a bit dizzy!

    Also, I don't think that a PM's personal ability particularly matters. Even if he was decisive, Zapatero would face the kinds of competing and contradictory demands that naturally exist at times of economic instability - ordinary people want protecting, but so do capitalists. Obama faces the same situation, as does Cameron. How to reconcile the desire of the wealthiest to have the rest of us pay for their chaotic system with the systemic need for growth which is only possible with public investment in infrastructure and services that are not profitable enough to attract private investors?

  5. It's true that he'd face competing demands, whatever. However, you can either make a good fist of things or a bad one.

    In fact, he's making very few concessions to the "capitalists", the question really is whether his reforms are upsetting as many people as they need to. The labour market reform, for example, was essential anyway (madly overgenerous system for redundancies and impossibility of sacking even useless staff), but it was still being fought tooth and nail. He's now, rather ungraciously, trying to hide behind the opposition parties, businesspeople and/or the EU and say "it was them, they made me" rather than taking responsibility for the reforms personally.

    In short, you can never reconcile opposing demands, your job is to make the smartest decision you can in view of them, always resulting in someone being unhappy with you. That's leadership.

  6. True, you can't please everybody - but I cannot fathom why socialist leaders in Spain and Greece are making ordinary people pay for the crisis. Real leadership would have been to take action on the side of the many, not the few.

    This talk of labour market reforms being necessary - in the UK, multinational firms were able to shed jobs here rather than elsewhere in Europe because of lower redundancy payments.


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