By Gideon Rachman
In the 1930s, the Spanish civil war sucked in outsiders, with Nazi Germany backing the nationalists, the Soviet Union backing the Republicans and foreign idealists flocking to the country to fight on either side of the conflict.
It seems as if good news is gushing out of Spain these days like water from a Seville fountain.
The economy is expanding at its fastest rate in seven years, leaving behind France, Germany and Italy. The government predicts Spain’s return to growth will create half a million jobs this year. A commercial airline (Ryanair) is going to fly in and out of Castellón airport, the unused, €150m facility near Valencia that was a symbol of wasteful expenditure in Spain’s pre-crisis years.
To cap everything, researchers say they have found, under a Madrid convent, some of the remains of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote and Spain’s most revered literary figure.
If only Greece could boast similar successes – a healing economy, a society recovering from the euro crisis, and the discovery of Homer’s skull under the patio of an Athens taverna.
Without wanting to turn a sprinkler on Spain’s parade, I think a few words of caution are in order. Read more
Another week, another sign of political upheaval in Spain.
Monday brought a fresh poll showing that Podemos, the upstart anti-establishment party, is now the most popular political movement in the country. The survey, published in the El Mundo daily, gave Podemos 28.3 per cent of the vote, two points ahead of the ruling Popular party and more than eight points ahead of the opposition Socialists. Not bad for a party founded just 10 months ago by a group of political scientists
It was not the first time that the new party has come first in an opinion poll. But the latest survey made clear that the Podemos surge is no statistical aberration. Fuelled by wide-spread disdain for Spain’s political class and a festering social crisis, the new party appears to be on course to shatter Spain’s established two-party system – and render any prediction as to who might govern the country after next year’s general election obsolete. Read more
People wait in line at a government employment office in Madrid – Getty
A strong, broadly based economic recovery in the eurozone is nowhere in sight – as will become clear on Friday, when Eurostat, the EU agency, and several national statistical offices publish estimates for gross domestic product growth in the third quarter of this year. Read more
It was an interesting week to visit Spain. On Tuesday, I interviewed Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, on stage at an FT conference in Madrid. We spoke, just as dramatic news was emerging from Catalonia that the regional government there was calling off its independence referendum.
Rajoy was understandably pleased. He pronounced that this was “excellent news”. But just as the Spanish prime minister was leaving the stage, so Artur Mas – the head of the devolved Catalan government – was beginning a press conference in Barcelona. His contribution muddied the waters. Read more
Spain’s forward Fernando Torres after Spain lost their Group B World Cup football match against Chile Credit: Getty
By now, the FT’s award for worst team of the World Cup is possibly as prestigious as the golden trophy pocketed by the winner. The US won our inaugural prize in 1998, Saudi Arabia in 2002, Serbia in 2006 and France in 2010. All were terrible teams, but none sealed the award just six days into the tournament. That distinction belongs to the FT’s worst team of 2014: Spain.
The Spaniards landed here not merely as world champions but – after two straight European titles – as the most successful national team ever. However, they started with a classic mistake: picking players because they had been world champions before. By that logic England should have sent their 1966 team, while Diego Maradona would be here as Argentina’s playmaker, not as a TV pundit who can’t always even get into the stadium. Read more
The focus in last week’s European elections was on the seismic waves of the distinct currents of Euro-populism and reaction that “earthquaked” to the top of the polls in France, Britain (or at least England), Denmark and Greece. But arguably the most intriguing insurgency was Podemos (We Can) in Spain, a phenomenon worth examining outside the swish and swirl of populism.
Much of what I have seen written about Podemos has them “coming out of nowhere” – a cliché employed by politicians and analysts that means “we didn’t see them coming”. Yet a three-month-old party with a budget of barely €100,000 shot into fourth place with one and a quarter million votes and five seats in the European Parliament – similar to Syriza, the Greek left-wing party they plan to hitch up with.
The eruption of Podemos and its compellingly outspoken leader, Pablo Iglesias, has already triggered the fall of Alfredo Perez Rubalcalba, the Socialist secretary general who has presided over the party’s worst electoral performance since democracy was restored in 1977-78. But while obviously a rising current of a new left, Podemos could be a broader catalyst for political change in Spain and beyond. Read more
Now that most of the results have come in from the European parliament elections, let’s take a family photograph of Europe’s presidents, chancellors and prime ministers. Who have the broadest smiles on their faces, and who are sobbing into their handkerchiefs?
Among the European Union’s six biggest states – France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK – the happiest leader must surely be Matteo Renzi, Italy’s premier. He won, and won big. Mr Renzi (above) demolished the notion that Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five-Star Movement is on an unstoppable roll. He also inflicted an emphatic defeat on Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party.
Even though it was not a national election, the youthful Mr Renzi can now claim to have a mandate of sorts for the political, economic and social reforms that he knows are necessary to modernise Italy. This is not to say that he will succeed – the power of entrenched anti-reform interests in Italy is formidable. But maybe he has a better chance than he did 48 hours ago. Read more
Miguel Arias Cañete and Elena Valenciano shake hands (Getty)
On Thursday night, Spanish television broadcast the first and only live debate between Spain’s leading candidates for the European Parliament election. The debate itself provided few rhetorical fireworks and precious little insight, but the morning after was packed with zesty controversy.
Most commentators felt that Miguel Arias Cañete, who heads the list of Spain’s ruling Popular party, came off slightly worse in the head-to-head clash with Elena Valenciano, his Socialist opponent. Unusually for a TV debate between politicians, Mr Arias Cañete decided to read his entire opening and closing statements off a piece of paper. Shuffling his notes around for much of the night, he reverted back to pre-written text on several more occasions. It made for a slightly wooden, disjointed appearance that triggered a flood of mocking tweets and commentary.
Perhaps realising that his performance had made less of an impact than he would have hoped, Mr Arias Cañete gave a television interview on Friday morning that offered up a curious explanation for his lacklustre performance. The problem, apparently, was the fact that he was facing a woman. Read more
French President François Hollande has made an uncharacteristically audacious decision in appointing Manuel Valls, an economic reformer and Socialist party moderniser, as his new prime minister. Here are five things you need to know about the new premier: Read more
An elderly woman walks through a wintry Spanish city, sadly bemoaning her country’s fate. “All the studies show we always come last in the rankings,” she exclaims, shuffling past a placard highlighting Spain’s poor performance in international education tests.
She bumps into old friends, all of whom tell her of their plans to leave the country and “become foreigners”. At a nearby market, stalls advertise the benefits of becoming German, Scandinavian or British. She meets a tousle-haired man clutching his German certificate: “I want to know what it feels like when everyone owes you money – not the other way around.” Read more
Spain: a cautious return to growth
Spain is back! Or is it? In this week’s podcast Ben Hall, world news editor, talks to Tobias Buck, Madrid bureau chief about Spain’s nascent recovery – is it gathering momentum? Also joining us is Michael Steen, Frankfurt bureau chief, to put some of the more positive indicators into a European context as inflation data out today shows worrying signs
Can Spain’s scandal-plagued government survive?
Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and his Popular Party are embroiled in a scandal that threatens to bring down the government. The flare-up in the long-rumbling scandal comes at a bad time for Spain, which continues to struggle to revive an economy where unemployment is around 20 per cent. Tobias Buck, Madrid bureau chief, and Tony Barber, Europe editor, join Gideon Rachman to discuss the crisis.
Protesters outside the PP HQ (Getty)
Things are not looking good for Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister. Luis Bárcenas, the treasurer of his right-wing Partido Popular for 20 years until 2009 who is at the centre of a series of interlinked illegal party financing scandals, was feared to be a ticking bomb. On Monday he started ticking very loudly indeed.
Giving evidence to an investigating judge on an alleged multi-million euro slush fund, Mr Bárcenas confirmed the existence of covert corporate donations and off-the-books cash payments to senior party figures. Leaked photocopies of the former treasurer’s secret accounts were published by the left-liberal El País newspaper on January 31. On July 7, El Mundo, its conservative rival, published a patchy interview with Mr Bárcenas, jailed last month in case he fled the country.
In the interview, Mr Bárcenas for the first time confirmed the existence of the secret ledgers; affirmed that the PP had been financing itself illegally for 20 years; and that the totality of the documents in his possession could bring down the government – a thinly veiled threat presumably aimed at trying to get Mr Rajoy to intervene in the judicial process. Read more