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. Read more
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. Read more
Is the worst over in the eurozone?
With the ECB committed to unlimited purchases of eurozone bonds, the German Constitutional Court in a forgiving mood, and the Dutch electorate surprising pundits by voting for pro-euro candidates, is the worst over in the euro crisis, or, with Spain still teetering, is this just another false dawn? Tony Barber, Europe editor, and Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief, join Gideon Rachman. Read more
Demonstrators outside the Spanish parliament on Sept 25 clash with police during a protest against spending cuts. Photo: Getty
The political gulf opening up between Spain’s growing separatist movement in the richest province Catalonia and the government of Mariano Rajoy, backed by King Juan Carlos and the Spanish military, has spooked the markets and provoked much debate in the press about whether Spain can survive in its present form. The country’s increasingly precarious financial position has also tilted the country further towards disaster.
In the FT:
The eurozone crisis now threatens the survival of a nation-state, writes David Gardener. The decision of Catalonia’s nationalist government to call a snap election in November – which in practice will amount to a referendum on independence – has opened the way to Catalan secession, and may give a lift to Basque separatists. “As a Spain trapped in the eurozone crisis tries to battle its way through a wrenching recession, it must now contemplate the real possibility that its plurinational state, which replaced the suffocatingly centralist Franco dictatorship with highly devolved regional government, may break up.” Read more
Will the Spanish government request a European bailout? Will Catalonia secede from Spain? These are burning questions, but on Tuesday morning a different political topic is on the minds of many madrileños.
Esperanza Aguirre, the head of the Madrid regional government and one of the most influential figures in the Partido Popular, Spain’s ruling centre-right party, abruptly resigned from her post on Monday. She said she was withdrawing from the front line of politics “for personal reasons”. Read more