“Do you want Catalonia to become a new state within the European Union?” That may be the question on the referendum that is causing a constitutional crisis in Spain even before the final wording has been decided. Efforts by Artur Mas, President of Catalonia, to pry his region loose from Spain are not only shaking up Spain but are pushing the European Union deeper into the conflict—just as Spain is plunging into a demographic nightmare.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has a singular problem: 84% of all voters have “little” or “no” confidence in him. The fate of Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, leader of the opposition Socialist party, is even worse: 90% of all voters distrust him! Those are the two top political figures of the two major political parties, and the utterly frustrated and disillusioned Spaniards are defenestrating them both.
Spain has enough problems: a debt crisis, a hangover from a housing bubble, unemployment of over 25%, youth unemployment of over 50%, massive demonstrations against “structural reforms” that the government is trying to implement in its desperate effort to keep its chin above water…. And now it has a new one: the possible breakup of the country. The military has already chosen sides.
It started on Monday. “Poverty is returning to Europe,” said Jan Zijderveld, head of Unilever’s European operations. The third largest consumer products company in the world was adjusting its commercial strategy to this new reality, he said, by redeploying to Europe what worked in poor countries of the developing world. Other stars of the industry affirmed it. “The logic of pauperization,” L’Oréal CEO Jean-Paul Agon called it.
Hope persists that Germany would not only bail out Spain and the rest of the Eurozone but would also tolerate the Fed-ization of the European Central Bank. Even Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was hounding German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who was on vacation. Yet, Deutsche Bank, Germany’s de-facto vice-ministry of finance whose CEO serves as éminence grise behind elected officials, well, that venerable institution at the core of Germany Inc. appears to be closing the book on Spain.
The coordinated confidence-inspiring words from the Eurozone’s fearless leaders yesterday and today about doing whatever it would take to save the euro wasn’t about Greece anymore. Politicians have apparently given up on it. Instead, the fearless leaders were afraid of Spain. Its vital signs were deteriorating. It had threatened with default. So the ECB caved. And in doing so, it threw down the gauntlet.
After 21 summits to save the euro, followed by dog-and-pony shows to calm the markets, followed by confidence-inspiring pronouncements about insurmountable firewalls and pandemic structural reforms, the euro is in greater danger than ever before. Spanish Prime Minister walked away from the last summit in June with a victory smile. Now, Spain is on the brink. And word is out: default.
Spain’s banks are getting bailed out with €100 billion. It won’t be enough, but it’ll buy time—a Eurozone mantra. Three of Spain’s seventeen heavily indebted regions asked for a bailout from the central government, and more are coming, but the central government can’t bail out anything because it’s broke. It needs a bailout for itself and for its regions. A bailout far larger than any of the prior bailouts. And then there’s Italy.
“The euro is irreversible,” said ECB President Mario Draghi as a whiff of panic began sweeping over the Eurozone. Everybody was supposed to enjoy their long vacation, and nothing important was supposed to happen. But, like a group of disruptive homeless guys, the ECB, the International Monetary Fund, and politicians have apparently gotten tired of kicking the Greek bailout can down the road, and they stomped on it instead.