I touched last night on the level of public awareness in Spain on how the country – and its economic plight – is seen elsewhere. I suggested it wasn’t very high. Now Edward Hugh – after analysing the latest Consumer Confidence Index – opines that the Spanish public currently holds a ridiculously high level of optimism because “They have no idea of the actual economic reality, or of what the future has in store for them. They are virtually being kept in the dark.”
Well, perhaps a little less so today, after all the media attention to the news that the deficit for 2009 will be even wore than it was forecast to be only a few weeks ago; that unemployment will keep rising during 2010; and that at least 50 billion euros worth of cuts are to be made in government spending over the next three years. And then there’s the news that the IMF is saying this won’t be enough and demanding that salaries be reduced here, as well as in Portugal and Greece. All in all, it’s hardly surprising that members of the government – even Sr Zapollyanna – are looking frazzled and careworn. Not to say panic-ridden. Especially as their trial balloon of a postponement of the retirement age appears to have been shot out of the sky within a few hours of its launch. Which itself is possibly a reflection of a lack of understanding on the part of the Spanish public (or at least the unions) of just how bad things now are. And how incapable their government is of doing anything much within the strait-jacket of Eurozone membership.
But, of course, there are always winners as well as losers. And the government’s Plan E public works projects have certainly been good for at least the construction industry, and, round here, the sellers of granite. Then there’s the car manufacturers and dealers who got a boost from the subsidies for new models. And the manufacturers of all those new signs which have sprung up in at least our streets. Funnily enough, some of these people are the same ones who did very well out of the boom that preceded the bust. Which doesn’t seem entirely fair.
It has to be remembered, I guess, that no one – least of all Sr Zapollyanna – expected the PSOE to take over the reins of government in April 2004. So it was hardly surprising they came to power without much idea of how to take advantage of the good years to make the structural changes in the economy which were being talked about even back then. Instead, the new socialist government set about establishing its socio-liberal credentials with a raft of initiatives which few felt able to criticise. Or even to suggest were all fine in themselves but hardly what the new government should be concentrating its thinking and resources on during that rare window of opportunity. Not that things improved much once the end of the boom was in sight, possibly because there was another election coming up. So now the cows are coming home and the chickens are in their roosts. And the first signs of dissension around Sr Zapollyanna’s leadership have appeared in the media. Which is probably too late to save the PSOE government in time for the 2012 elections. Unless, of course, the opposition PP party continues to shoot itself in several limbs with impressive regularity. Sometimes one has to remind oneself that the governance of Spain is not a comic opera. Though ETA bombs are always a useful prompt.
Incidentally, half of the 50 billion cuts in government spending are scheduled to be made by the regional governments. I fancy this doesn’t work at easily as I think it does in the UK – the central government merely passes less through to the local governments – but, however it’s done, it’s hard to see Spain’s ‘autonomous’ regions taking it lying down. Though I’ve no idea of how this will play out in practice. It will be interesting to see. Perhaps we will witness a breakaway Galiza after all.
Which reminds me . . . I read today that Galicia is at the bottom of the list – along with the Basque Country – when it comes to foreign students attending universities here. The article suggested there are linguistic barriers, which seems plausible to me, given the hegemony of Gallego in the university of Santiago.
Finally . . . One is often reminded of how ‘robust’ public language can be in Spain. But I was still surprised to see one of the people interviewed on the crisis by the Diario de Pontevedra quoted on page one today as saying “My son asked me if we’re fucked and I replied that things are tight.”