Spain's EU presidency: Numantian resistance?

Article published on June 28, 2010
Article published on June 28, 2010
The Numantians burnt their own city down when they lost a thirteen-month Roman siege. There are references to Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's similar resistence with the current Spanish presidency of the European Union, which ends on 1 July. The term has limped along with more grief than glory, despite propaganda efforts in Brussels. Opinion

They say that the twenty-first century contains Michel de Nostredame (Nostradamus)'s fourth quartet on Spain:

'From lands animal named, will come he who rules the Iberians, worships black kings and embraces strange religions. He will fill his palace with fools and flatterers, and wearing his own fool’s mask, will bring with him hunger, poverty and despair'

The Spanish are used to cracking jokes at anything. It's difficult to resist the temptation to identify the protagonist of the latest one. After all José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was born in the north-western province of León. It should be noted that we don't need to believe in prophesies to have foretold the disastrous direction Spain has taken since 2009. Whilst the Spanish prime minister kept declaring that the crisis that would devastate Spain was unforeseen, a monthly report published by La Caixa indicates that there have been inauspicious economic movements of the Spanish economy since the second half of 2007. Can Zapatero read English? Maybe none of his numerous advisors have access to this information; in any case, we would all have to agree that someone here is lying.

The consequence is that things have not been going so well. In fact, government data confirms that things are going pretty badly. Spain's six-month presidency of the European Union, which will be handed over to Belgium for another six months on 1 July, limps along with more grief than glory, despite the propaganda efforts in Brussels. The boasted alliance of civilisations, jointly initiated by Spain and Turkey under UN auspices in 2005, does not exist -  nor should you hold your breath for it. Spanish debt skyrockets and unemployment grows to reckless levels.

Desperate in the face of these indicators, the former champion of optimistic utopianism has turned into the ultimate neoliberal, who is lowering salaries at any cost, freezing pensions and making unprecedented cuts to the Spanish welfare state. For the greatest fame in his contrition, Zapatero is photographed alongside his former enemy and Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi and performs respectful genuflections in front of Pope Benedict XVI. He is a convert to the extreme.

For someone who had insisted on remaining within a 'safety belt', it seems to half of Spain that Zapatero has memorised the manual of political Kamasutra, adopting any possible positions to preserve power. Relatively recently, Spain needed to open up massive legalisation of immigrants behind other EU partners. We used to be sovereign for something. Not long ago, the Spanish government was embroiled in a cold war against George Bush's US. These so-called 'social' achievements have gone so far that, just before the 2008 elections, the prime minister did not hesitate to 'give away' 400 euros (£328.59) to every Spanish worker with the intention of 'creating an atmosphere' of success at the polls. In the old days, this was called buying votes.

However, Zapatero has become staunchly conservative with state programmes. It's so extreme that he has seriously set back large sections of society without batting an eyelid. He does not hesitate to pamper the banks and listen to the recommendations (orders) of Ecofin or of his believed president Barack Obama. The dismantling of the welfare state has gone so far that no-one knows when Spain will recover its recently lost social gains, if they will ever be recuperated at all.

Naturally, the official justification sought to demonstrate that Zapatero's efforts are focused on saving the country from the international economic crisis which originated – as usual – in the US (under Bush, not Obama, clearly). To show the public that he is doing what needs to be done, we have the examples of Germany and France, who have also cut benefits and social rights. Little does it matters that those governments are conservative and have nothing in common with the former leftist inclinations of their Spanish counterpart.

The issue is that the ultimate goal is different. Lying just behind this 'anything goes' approach is the pure and simple conquest and maintenance of power. Zapatero forever will need his aim to be to end his prime ministerial mandate, as the media caught him saying to the president of Cantabria on 8 June. It would be naïve to think that he does not carry an ace up his sleeve. He will not be able to resolve the economic crisis; the situation in Spain will be significantly more complex in 2012. However, he will succeed in preserving his spot as a feasible candidate. Poor Spain, and by extension, poor northern Europe, always situated in between the smiles and complacency at what occurs in the south. Now it seems that distrust is returning of risks associated with the southern partners.

The Numantian resistance will be much more desperate, as their crisis is not only measured in terms of deficit: the key to the thorny issue lies in an acute and progressive lack of liquidity. The increasing lack of solvency of the Spanish state is reflected in its debt, in its empty coffers.

The author is a contemporary history professor at the geography and history faculty of the university of Seville

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