By José Ignacio Torreblanca

Basta! After two years of reforms, Spaniards are all too familiar with the deadly ritual Europe’s strategy to fight the crisis has become. Every new reform package adopted is praised by European institutions and met with a pat on the back. Then, when recession looms, unemployment jumps again and risk premiums keep rising, Spaniards are asked to face yet more austerity. If and when you question whether the strategy amounts to a self-inflicted recession, you are told not to worry and encouraged to be patient and wait for the results. If faith is defined as the capacity to believe without seeing, Spaniards are being asked to replace politics and economics with a sheer act of faith in austerity.

Both citizens and elites in Europe seem to feel the need to stop this nonsense. The collapse of the Dutch government and the victory of François Hollande in the first round of the French presidential elections point in the same direction: a rebellion against austerity. But this could be just the beginning: upcoming elections in Greece, next month’s Irish referendum and the French legislative elections in June might well turn this into a major crisis. Looking at the damage that angry citizens have inflicted on the EU in the past decade, European leaders would do well to take their anxieties seriously.

Next week it will be two years since José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s socialist government adopted the first austerity measures and passed a series of structural reforms. These measures meant the electoral suicide of the Spanish Socialist party. Now the Conservatives find themselves in a similar situation: little more than 100 days after gaining power they have alienated citizens by pushing austerity well beyond their electoral mandate, only to find themselves as heavily penalised by the financial markets as Mr Zapatero was.

True, markets are making life difficult for the Spanish government, but that is no surprise. What is outrageous is that, while Spaniards face recession and soaring unemployment, Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank president and European Central Bank council member, sits back and says that 6 per cent interest rates for Spanish sovereign debt “are not the end of the world”. At the same time, Nicolas Sarkozy campaigns for re-election by claiming his rival Mr Hollande would replicate Spain’s disaster should he make it to the Elysée. So much for solidarity among conservative governments. Read more…

José Ignacio Torreblanca is professor of political science at UNED university and head of the European Council on Foreign Relations office in Madrid

As published in www.ft.com on April 25, 2012.


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