Spain just can’t catch a break—a horrid economy with dizzying unemployment, a prime minister and ruling party tarred by corruption, collapsing banks…. Now a political espionage scandal blew up, scattering debris and money laundering allegations far and wide.
It should have been an exciting event for Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy: a tête-à-tête with German Chancellor Merkel. Afterwards, he’d stand next to her, illuminated by her glory. He’d brag about implementing structural reforms, cleaning up banks, and moving Spain forward. She’d endorse him with her benevolent smile. Instead, it was a slugfest about corruption.
“Private sector” is a rubbery term. Most of the bondholders that lost their shirts during the first Greek default last March, and during the second one currently underway, were banks, including banks in Greece, Spain, and Cyprus. They are now getting bailed out by the public. After nearly all of Greece’s debt was shifted to the public, a third haircut was announced. Now Portugal wants the same deal. The can has been opened.
“I cannot be disillusioned because I no longer have any illusions about Europe,” muttered Euro Group President Jean-Claude Juncker last week after the horse trading over Greece’s bailout had failed once again. But he isn’t the only one who lost his illusions. “There are better alternatives to the bailout policies of Chancellor Merkel,” declares the man who’ll run against her in 2013; alternatives that “protect taxpayers and don’t only benefit the banks.”
“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.