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SPAIN/ After cuts and sacrifices, there is still one more challenge

FERNANDO DE HARO comments on the recent austerity measures announced in Spain, to prove that they are serious about reducing the deficit in view of the bailout of their banking industry.

Mariano Rajoy  (Infophoto) Mariano Rajoy (Infophoto)

While announcing the new package of measures a few days ago, Mariano Rajoy, though always a good parliamentarian, paused for some time as he spoke. It is not easy to introduce the measures necessary to save 60 billion euros over two years. He must have said dozens of times that there would be no increase in taxes and that he was not going to cut the salaries of civil servants, but eventually he had to do it. Still, recent surveys show that the prime minister continues to enjoy broad popular support.

A poll published Sunday in the newspaper El Pais shows that the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) suffered a greater loss of consensus than the PP (People’s Party) last month. Many people consider the socialists responsible for what is happening. If one wants to criticize Rajoy, then, it should not be for having raised the taxes and lowered the unemployment benefits and salaries of state employees, but for not having done it sooner. Perhaps he thought it was possible to wait, or to get the bailout from Europe and continue to negotiate more favorable terms. What happened last week, after the European Council, however, demonstrated that the markets do not settle for generic rescue agreements and vague plans for deficit reduction.

The Eurogroup and Ecofin of Monday and Tuesday swept away the fear that Germany and Finland might have regrets about saving the Spanish banking system. The good news is that the bailout will take place. It will be directed at the institutions and, if necessary, there will be an acquisition of debt. Now, Spain must demonstrate that they are serious about reducing the deficit, so they had no choice but to make cuts like those recently announced. The debate in the Chamber of Representatives, where the opposition’s criticisms were purely theatrical, demonstrated the extent to which the cuts are taken for granted both among the parties and in the eyes of public opinion.

After all, everyone knows that the best possible scenario would be if this is the last cut that will be needed to lower the deficit to 3% by 2014. This happening should not be taken for granted however, and Spanish society should prepare itself, with a calm and resignation, for greater sacrifices.

This is positive. What is negative is that the same force used in accepting sacrifices is not being used to try innovative and alternative ways of creating wealth. This is really the main challenge.

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