I WANNA PLAY WITH YOUR TEAM

Article published on July 23, 2014
Article published on July 23, 2014

If the Eu­ro­pean Coun­cil were a play­ground, for which team would Spain play? The choice is not that easy: Merkel or Renzi? Ger­many or Italy? Aus­ter­ity or in­vest­ment? And then fi­nally: Loy­alty to the cen­tre-right fam­ily or ap­proach­ing  the de­mands of the cen­tre-left?

Since the re­form of the Span­ish Con­sti­tu­tion in 2011 agreed to by both the then rul­ing so­cial­ist party (PSOE) and the cen­tre-right (PP), Spain started to carry out a se­ries of aus­ter­ity mea­sures along the lines of res­cued coun­tries such as Greece, Por­tu­gal and Ire­land. The lat­est episode of cut­s con­cerns the hos­pi­tals. Ac­cord­ing to the nurse’s trade union SATSE, be­tween 14.000 and 15.000 beds in the hos­pi­tals would be “out of ser­vice” due to the lack of newly-en­gaged pro­fes­sion­als dur­ing the sum­mer.

These aus­ter­ity mea­sures have dam­aged the pop­u­lar­ity of PM Mar­i­ano Rajoy. 59,7% of Span­ish peo­ple do not trust  him at all, an in­crease from 27,2% of peo­ple who did not trust  the PM two years ago, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial num­bers of the Cen­tre of Sta­tis­tics (CIS).

With the ar­rival of the so­cial­ist François Hol­lande to the Eu­ro­pean Coun­cil, many peo­ple thought that the aus­ter­ity im­posed by Ger­many would be over. But it has been with Mat­teo Renzi's per­for­mance in the 28EU club that things look like they will change. At the start of the last Eu­ro­pean Sum­mit on July 16th, the young Ital­ian PM said,“We are ask­ing for re­spect.” The pre­vi­ous week he made a speech re­iterat­ing his po­si­tion to com­bat aus­ter­ity.

The ques­tion now is if Spain will join the Ital­ian team or  keep to the Ger­man one. Being op­posed to Ger­many in the Coun­cil is very risky, since Ger­many is the del­e­ga­tion with the high­est num­ber of votes. Fur­ther­more, An­gela Merkel and Mar­i­ano Rajoy are in the same po­lit­i­cal fam­ily. On the other hand, a change in Rajoy’s mea­sures could help the cen­tre-right to gain votes for the com­ing gen­eral elec­tions to be held in 2015.

The Span­ish PM has never been clear in his po­si­tion be­tween Ger­man aus­ter­ity and Ital­ian flex­i­bil­ity.

play­ing your cards in the coun­cil

The Eu­ro­pean Coun­cil is the High In­sti­tu­tion of the Eu­ro­pean Union where the Heads of State of the 28 Mem­ber States gather to­gether. One could say that this is the least “com­mu­nity method” in­sti­tu­tion, since it is here where we can see the po­si­tion of each Mem­ber State in­di­vid­u­ally. How­ever, no sin­gle coun­try is able to act as an in­di­vid­ual, so al­liances are nec­es­sary. Here we have thus the great “game of thrones” in the Eu­ro­pean Union.

The Coun­cil shares with the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment the power to ap­prove or re­ject leg­is­la­tion. But the prior task of the Coun­cil dur­ing this sum­mer (after the Eu­ro­pean Elec­tions on 25th May) is to ap­point who will chair the high­est po­si­tions. So for­get about leg­is­la­tion that af­fects cit­i­zens; now it is time for pure pol­i­tics.

Meet­ing an agree­ment is some­times a Her­culean task, but no Her­cules or Zeus sit on the Eu­ro­pean Coun­cil. Here we have An­gela Merkel and Mat­teo Renzi. The Ger­man chan­cel­lor in­sists in keep­ing the aus­ter­ity mea­sures agreed upon in the Pact of Sta­bil­ity. On the other hand, the newly elected Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter is push­ing to open the pursestrings (maybe of Pan­dora) of in­vest­ment and flex­i­bil­ity. These are ba­si­cally the two ends of the line.

Nev­er­the­less, with 28 play­ers the ne­go­ti­a­tions be­come more com­plex. Home af­fairs, party com­pro­mises, and the elec­torate de­mands play a role in the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

A CHAIR FOR SPAIN

Far from the mea­sures that af­fect the Span­ish pop­u­la­tion, the in­ter­est of Rajoy is now the in­sti­tu­tional dis­cus­sions to give away the “Eu­ro­pean thrones.” Juncker al­ready took his sit as Pres­i­dent of the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion, Italy is fight­ing to get the For­eign Of­fice for Fed­er­ica Mogherini, and Den­mark could ob­tain the pres­i­dency of the Eu­ro­pean Coun­cil it­self. The next chair avail­able is the Pres­i­dent of the Eu­rogroup, the group of Fi­nance Min­is­ters of the Eu­ro­zone. Ac­tu­ally, that was the chair oc­cu­pied by Juncker since its cre­ation in 2005 until 2013, when the Dutch Jeroen Di­js­sel­bloem took  of­fice, a post that he does not want to leave now. It is not with­out sur­prise that all the Mem­ber States ex­cept the Nether­lands would back Luis de Guin­dos, the cur­rent Span­ish Fi­nance Min­is­ter.

The prob­lem comes when talk­ing about the Com­mis­sioner pro­posed by Spain. Miguel Ángel Arias Cañete, who has been the Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter until he re­signed from his job to lead the list of the Pop­u­lar Party for the Eu­ro­pean Elec­tions, wanted the Com­mis­sion of Agri­cul­ture from the very be­gin­ning. Rajoy is try­ing to get it, but Juncker al­ready asked to the Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter to pro­pose a woman as can­di­date for the Com­mis­sion. Funny co­in­ci­dence: Cañete said after a tele­vised elec­toral de­bate that de­bat­ing with a woman is com­pli­cated, since a man would not show his su­pe­ri­or­ity. Now the gen­der par­ity in the Eu­ro­pean In­sti­tu­tions could pre­vent him from taking the am­bi­tious post.

In Span­ish we use the idiom “bailar con la más fea” (danc­ing with the ugli­est one) when you get the worst part of some­thing. Might Spain dance with the pret­ti­est one this time?