Tag Archives: PSOE

Sortu and the Future of Basque Politics

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According to El País, enough evidence has been found that the rejection of terrorism by Sortu, the new political platform of the leftwing abertzale, is simply empty rhetoric for the organisation to be illegalised.

In fact, all of the evidence since the announcement of the formation of Sortu has pointed to its seemingly inevitable legalisation. It was condemned by both the PSOE and the PP, and its webpage suspiciously disappeared from the internet.

El País has helpfully published the statutes of Sortu. A quick glance through reveals that there are repeated rejections of violence and links with ETA, as well as the recognition that democratic participation is the only way forward. What more do the other political parties want? Whether rhetoric or not, there is a definite attempt to at least portray that they distancing themselves from the terrorist organisation.

Sortu has been hysterically accused repeatedly of being the new incarnation of Batasuna, when (as a few commentators have pointed out) this is completely inevitable. Of course there will be links between the two, but what is more important is working out the difference between the two. Wouldn’t it be better to watch Sortu closely and make sure it follows Spanish law? That would help to distance it from ETA and erode the terrorists’ support.

A simple ‘no’ to any political organisation created by the abertzale runs the risk of making the other political groups appear afraid of losing their electorate and therefore potentially acting undemocratically.

Far more important than short-term party interests is how this will affect the future development of politics in the Basque Country and in Spain more widely. Only time will tell if denying all political participation in this way will hasten or impede the end of ETA.

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Scissors and Suits

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The Popular Party should have been delighted yesterday. Zapatero announced a drastic and severe plan to cut the national deficit in a bold and unexpected move, given that he has always rejected such action.

The measures are a combination of spending and salary cuts, mixed with the freezing of pensions that have been dubbed the ‘tijeretazo’ or ‘Giant Scissor Plan.’ The main victims are going to be the civil servants and public sector workers who are going to see their wages fall on average by 5% and frozen in 2011, along with the pensioners whose state pension will also be frozen at its current level. The cheques for each new baby will be shelved and general spending cuts in the public administration are planned, all of which will attempt to find €15 billion. Given the size of the civil service and public sector, which is around 20-25% of the active population, this is going to affect most families across Spain and the two main unions UGT and CC.OO. are already talking about strikes.

Why now? It’s clear that this is a knee-jerk reaction in response to the EU talks last weekend and the attacks on the Euro. Spain’s international economic credibility is low and Zapatero was left with no choice except to try and do everything possible to placate the shadowy gods of speculation.*

The problem is that these measures won’t address the fundamental issues at the heart of the civil service (its lack of productivity and the fact that it is too top-heavy) and the people consider it unfair for them to pay for a recession created by speculation and the construction bubble.

As for the leader of the opposition, he enjoyed his moment of severe criticism of the measures in the Spanish parliament yesterday. Rajoy continued to promote his delusional plan to save the Spanish economy through destroying the Ministry of Equality and eliminating the Third Deputy Prime Minister of the government. The Popular Party will only have the authority to criticise the government’s economic strategy when they apply their own philosophy to the public expenditure in their own Autonomous Communities. Practise what you preach.

Rajoy should have enjoyed the fact that the news story which was expected to make all of the headlines was pushed lower down the list because of the drastic economic adjustment plan. That particular news story was the reopening of the corruption case against Camps, the President of the Community of Valencia, for his acceptance of three suits. This is bad news for Camps. He, and the PP in general, had hoped that this particular case would be swept under the carpet so that they could continue to portray the Gürtel scandal as simply a few people and businesses who have taken advantage of the party. Camps is still at the heart of the scandal and despite his cries of innocence, there is evidence of the illegal financing of the Valencian PP.

Rajoy, nevertheless, continues to say that Camps is definitely the PP’s candidate for the regional elections this year. It’s a breathtakingly hypocritical move that they themselves are now putting pressure on the judicial system, given how the PP protested so vehemently against the demonstrations in support of Garzón.

An interesting day, all in all, between scandals and drastic measures. The PP should have been delighted that Zapatero managed to steal the headlines from Camps and he did it through announcing spending cuts that the PP has been demanding for months and months. The PP should have been clapping themselves on the back, but instead they launched a ferocious attack on the measures and the negative effects they will have on Spanish families, in a completely illogical u-turn. Or maybe not. In Spanish politics it’s not what your stance on certain issues is, it’s how you differ from your political opponents. The PP will never applaud any measure adopted by the PSOE even if they agree with it. Criticise for the sake of criticising, oppose whatever your opponent says, that’s Spanish political tactics.

*It’s interesting to note that whilst I write this the shadowy gods have rained benedictions down on the Spanish economy thanks to the severe measures. Spain has been graced with the rising of the international markets. The citizens will pay for the recession. Amen.

Contemporary Feudalism

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Esperanza Aguirre, the President of the Community of Madrid, has attempted to ignite the whole of Spain with her call to rebellion against the rise in the VAT rates from July 1st. Critics of this measure say that is unfair to burden the citizens with this tax rise and that it won’t help the economic recovery. The socialists see it as a good way of covering the deficit and explain that Spain has the lowest VAT rates in Europe. This post is not about the pros and cons of this measure. It’s about the meaning of the gesture by Aguirre, a politician who is either considered by the PP to be a heroic defender of their values or a loose cannon that damages the cohesion and unity of the party.

Aguirre’s capacity for audacious gestures is breathtaking. She is calling for rebellion whilst fees and taxes are being raised faster in Madrid than anywhere else in Spain. How can this happen? The answer lies within the system of Autonomous Communities itself, a system improvised during the Transition. The system has allowed for the growth in local oligarchies. National party politics are reproduced at a local level and are to a great extent more important than national politics because of the huge amount of power devolved to the Autonomous Communities. The Presidents are medieval barons of their individual fiefs, who have built up their own power structures in their local areas. Prime examples of this are Camps (who is still widely supported in Valencia despite the Gürtel scandal) and Aguirre (who regularly challenges Rajoy indirectly.) These barons then flex their muscles, pushing at the boundaries between the Autonomous Communities and the state: for example the censoring of a museum exhibition in Valencia and Telemadrid, which has become the PP’s vehicle for expounding their views.

Local agendas affect the perception of national politics and place the local oligarchies in the advantageous position of being able to manipulate the introduction of legislation within their region and blame the problems on national government. Where the party in opposition in the national parliament (currently the PP) is in power at Autonomous Community level, it can serve as a counterweight to the national government, vociferously complaining and dragging its heels with respect to the introduction of national laws within their fiefs. It is not right that social legislation (as national policy) should be implemented differently according to the region and local politics, to the detriment of the citizens. Consequently the implementation of laws varies widely between different Autonomous Communities. The system blocks the effective and efficient introduction of policy.

Where is the line between the Autonomous Communities and the state? I don’t think it has been clearly drawn yet. This means the wasting of millions of Euros, as responsibility is shifted between national government and local government (see, for example, the Law of Historical Memory. Both the Autonomous Communities and the government have declared its implementation to be the responsibility of the other) in addition to a large civil service: Spain has a big number of civil servants compared to other European countries.

There are plenty of problems with the present system, but that doesn’t mean it should be abolished. The system of Autonomous Communities is entirely workable, but it requires a clearer hierarchy with respect to responsibilities and less medieval oligarchies. The Presidents need to realise that they have a duty to their local citizens and to national government, not just to the maintenance of their personal fiefdoms. The line needs to be drawn urgently.

Transition? What Transition?

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The Garzón fiasco continues to rumble on, with the politicians and judiciary both taking sides in the dispute.

The Supreme Court seem to have hatched a plan to try and destroy the investigation into the Gürtel Case for once and for all. Their plan is: remove Garzón and you remove the problem. Not only that, Garzón has also been digging up problems from the Francoist dictatorship that the right had long thought buried. Getting rid of Garzón would eliminate the risk of him trying to drag ex-members of Franco’s political class before the judge. Of course it would also mean deposing one of the most tenacious magistrates that Spain (and the world) has in pursuing terrorists and international war crimes. Some people, it seems, have a lot to lose.

Let’s not forget that the UN has made it clear that it has serious concerns about the way in which the dictatorship is being dealt with in Spain. It is in no way acceptable that a forward thinking country that brands itself strongly internationally should still have thousands of people buried in unmarked graves. It goes against human rights, religious belief and above all, human dignity. Countries in South America have been far better examples of how to reconcile a country’s present with its past, through the use of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. In Spain, the only organisation is the grassroots NGO ‘Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica’, which is doing a fantastic job despite limited resources and even less political support.

Consequently, to prosecute Garzón is to strike a blow against all of those bodies lying in common graves. To accuse him of prevarication is a downright disgrace. If we can prosecute criminals from the Second World War, why can’t crimes from the dictatorship be denounced?

Here’s an idea that no one’s going to like. There never was a transition in Spain; it was simply a myth to pacify the population. Some of the mechanisms of power changed: elections, parliament, laws, government etc, but the true power, of the political class and above all, the judiciary, still lies in the same hands that is always has done. The real power has never changed hands. The rich Francoists are still rich. Fraga is still the ceremonial head of the PP. The current system is just a loosened version of the dictatorship with a new face. The money has never moved. The oligarchic system hasn’t changed.

The politicians have taken sides and it’s now time for the people to do so. 61% of the people surveyed by El País believe that Garzón is being hunted down specifically. It’s now time for the people to show their support on the streets, demonstrate their desire to see justice and the defence of human rights, and to reject the oligarchic system of hidden interests and alliances that damage Spain not only internally, but also on the international stage.

The Economy I: Bricks and Golden Eggs

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Where better place to start than with construction? Bricks and mortar have been the driving force of the Spanish economy with the skyline of every town and city broken by the skeletal sight of several cranes. Construction has produced a huge amount of wealth for Spain, for local government and of course for the developers and speculators. A wealth generator yes, but personally I believe it has led to a myth of economic development. The economy hasn’t developed in a wider sense and the idea that construction could keep on pushing the country forwards forever was always going to be impossible. Of course it’s very easy to say that now, but it was clear before the start of the recession that it was an unsustainable policy. Understandably the banks, politicians and developers kept working the golden goose until it collapsed. Why bother changing something that works well for them?

There are a million people in construction without work because of the recession. 350,000 new posts will be created the new project for the renovation of old buildings. This will be encouraged by reducing VAT for these projects, reducing taxes and costs and increasing particular loans. Attractive incentives, but who is actually going to fund these works? Is it really profitable for the developers to realise this kind of labour? Does this mean rehabilitating empty buildings to sell on? To whom? Or if they are already inhabited, will the occupants want to pay? What about the rest of the people?

It seems that all of the political parties are waiting for construction to pick up again. It won’t work. It’s an economic model that is fundamentally unsustainable in a country that has a million unsold and unoccupied flats. Spain is in an awkward position as this is affecting everyone: there are a million unemployed in this sector and many people from the middle class who thought they could make a fast buck buying and renting/selling a second property. Now that the bubble’s burst, they’ve got problems: they want to sell but no one wants (or can) buy. Or if they want to buy, the price is inflated because the owners need to recoup as much money as possible. Prices are high compared to salaries and there are too many flats –what is the point in building more? The younger generations are being held to ransom by the speculators. Add to this the fact that many homes in the south were being bought by foreigners. These foreigners have enough problems in their own countries with unemployment etc and won’t be looking to buy a second home soon. Similarly, the British expats are seeing their pensions steadily fall in value because of the euro and consequently life is getting more and more expensive, with the result that many want to return home.

What is needed is a fundamental shift in the focus of the economy. It will be painful and hurt a great number of people, but I feel it is necessary in order to give work to the 1,000,000 unemployed construction workers, get the economy moving again and create a sustainable economic model. This requires investment, not cuts. The biggest problem of the economy is unemployment and the idea of cutting public spending is an absolute no-brainer. What is required is targeted and controlled investment.

Construction has led to a myth of development. Many people have got rich with the construction boom, but that hasn’t developed the economy in any way. The people at the bottom continue to struggle along as best they can with astronomical mortgages. It has been a golden goose for some, but the eggs are no longer being laid. The problem is that the politicians, who for a long time have benefited from part of the construction contract egg, are not willing to shoot it.

The Anti-Recession Commission: ‘Come on people, let’s sort it out!’

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Today the cross-party Anti-Recession Commission meets for the first time in Madrid to sort out once and for all the problems that the Spanish economy is facing. To me it seems like a ‘Big Talk’ sketch from Mitchell and Webb: ‘Come on boffins, let’s sort it out now!’

I can only see two possible outcomes of this series of meetings (which will take up to two months, by which time how many people will be unemployed? Why hasn’t this been done before?) and here they are:

  1. Absolute disaster. The diametrically opposed parties find it impossible to come to any agreement about anything as they fail to reach consensus on cuts and how to generate employment. Another two months is lost and the economy continues to stagnate.
  2. A policy so-watered-down-it’s-transparent is published to a great fanfare. The PP have got their way in demolishing what the PSOE wanted to do whilst the PSOE can celebrate having at least reached a consensus on something. Two months have been lost and it’s unlikely the policies will work anyway.

Why won’t these potential policies work? Because it isn’t the PP’s interests to cooperate and rebuild the Spanish economy. They’re doing fabulously well (at least in their own eyes) sitting back and pointing out what is going wrong. The longer the recovery takes, the better for the conservatives. And then of course there’s the other reason why the policies won’t work: they won’t sort out the real structural problems with the economy because all the parties are afraid to do it (and because they benefit from this economic model.) That takes a great deal more explaining, and I’ll try to do so in the coming weeks.

The cross-party Anti-Recession Commission? Doomed (or perhaps programmed) to fail. I do hope I’m wrong.