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
By Gideon Rachman
Travelling between Madrid and Barcelona on a recent weekday afternoon, I wandered into the first-class section of the train. There was only one passenger, snoozing on the black leather seats – and he turned out to be the conductor, who looked up startled at the sound of an intruder.
The refusal of the Portuguese courts to authorise the full version of the latest round of austerity cuts will be watched closely in neighbouring Spain – which is, of course, a bigger and more systemically important economy. The Spanish fear that, economically and politically, Portugal offers a vision of their future. The recession there is deeper and so are the cuts to government spending. But with Spain facing another year of recession and cuts – the Spanish too are wondering how long their public will tolerate austerity. Read more
Grateful to Jose Antonio Martinez Soler for this photomontage doing the rounds of Spain’s blogosphere
The headline around which almost the entire Spanish political (and royal) class appear to be creasing themselves with laughter says: “Former British minister resigns for lying about a traffic fine”. Read more
Hugo Chávez is in Havana. Venezuela’s cancer-ridden president may be alive in the elite CIMEQ hospital, or he may simply be being kept alive on a life support system as rumours suggest, or he may be getting better, as the Venezuelan government insists. Although he remains, officially, the country’s head of state, nobody really knows the current state of his health – except for the Castro brothers and a handful of close family and government associates. Indeed, since Chávez underwent his fourth round of cancer surgery on December 11, there has been no video of the usually loquacious socialist leader smiling from a hospital bed, no record of him cheering on loyal supporters, no photograph, no tweet even from a president much given to social media (he has 4m followers on Twitter). The only evidence presented that Chávez is still alive, so far, has been a scanned photograph of Chávez’s signature underneath an official decree. But the signature was datelined Caracas, although even the government admits Chávez remains in Havana. Read more
On Tuesday, the editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, gave the commencement address at Barcelona’s Esade Business School. His theme was the eurozone crisis – but he began with a story from the earlier, headier days of the new millenium, when the Spanish economy was displaying “sustained dynamism”, in the words of the IMF.
In the summer of 2001, I interviewed José María Aznar and Silvio Berlusconi in successive weeks. Aznar was at the height of his powers. He had just successfully pressed for better budget terms at an EU summit, and boasted of quietly smoking a fat cigar until Chancellor Schroeder and others came round to his demands.
A few weeks later I was in Rome at Silvio Berlusconi’s private villa next to the Spanish steps. Inside, the roses were purple, the ceilings were high and the women statuesque. When I insisted in conducting my interview in French, il Cavaliere responded by crooning an old Edith Piaf song. Then I mentioned I had just interviewed his old friend Aznar at the Moncloa. “Well,” said Mr Berlusconi, suddenly serious, “Spain is a great success story. Madrid is one of the great cities, bustling with commerce and trade. If Italy does not reform, it will be overtaken by Spain in the next decade.”
By Gideon Rachman
Arriving in Scotland a few years ago, I was greeted by a poster boasting that Glasgow has “the latitude of Smolensk and the attitude of Barcelona”. It was a vivid example of the mixture of comradeship and admiration with which Scots look towards Catalonia. Barcelona, the Catalan capital, has many things that Glaswegians covet: better weather, better food, better football. In a striking homage to Catalonia, the Scots even chose an architect from its capital, Enric Miralles, to design their new parliament building.