Times of change

Published in Expansión

Although political alternation is almost always healthy (except in disastrous cases…), Saint Ignatius advised that it’s best not to move in times of tribulations – and Spain is in deep political tribulation. Pedro Sánchez, our incoming president-by-surprise due to Rajoy’s unexpected loss in a confidence vote in Congress, wins his party’s primaries but loses general elections over and over again (my British friends would say “like Corbyn”). But more worrisome is that he has a disturbing track-record. Lacking any ideas worth such name, erratic and empowered by political parties that are the enemies of Spain, of the rule law and freedom (a mixture of communists, other radical leftists and separatists), he appears to belong to the radical wing of socialism and, just a couple of months ago, had no qualms —as only a sectarian would—, in proposing to create a crime of opinion punishable by imprisonment (within his totalitarian project to reform the Historical Memory Law). Maybe during his short term of office (less than two years to go to the general elections, but most probably less, for his socialist party holds just 85 seats in a 350 member Congress and will not be able to pass the 2019 budget), he might try to recover a more moderate image (maybe not, for he is an extremist at heart). However, that would just be make-up, as according to his words and actions in the very recent past, we must not rule out at all (which is disturbing in itself) that after the elections, if he can and it suits him, he might form a Venezuelan-style radical left Popular Front that would ruin the country (and destroy the EU). It’s like a Russian roulette, to put it mildly.

But let us go back to those on their way out. Winston Churchill was not concerned about how History would judge him: “History will treat me with kindness, for I intend to write it myself”, he said. Judging himself benevolently, Mariano Rajoy, the outgoing president, has said goodbye to politics, which I believe is in the best interest of the country and of his party. His successor in the Popular Party (PP) will have a difficult time. Swamped in judicial corruption cases, just like other parties, lacking a political project and subject to successive purges, his party has suffered such a systematic demolition (reflected in the polls) that one would think it had been carried out by a mole on a sabotage mission. The voters, despised and betrayed, and hopeless, were being asked for their vote with the explanation that it was the only “useful” vote to stop the radical left (useful for them to remain in power, really), but the effect of that petition had already worn off. I would like to discuss some aspects of their legacy avoiding the frequent exercises of emotional and partisan analysis, whether complacent or critical.

Let us begin with the economy. In the absence of true structural reforms (reduction of taxes and bureaucracy, and improvement of juridical certainty – or the opposite), economic cycles have a life of their own and politicians everywhere are generally limited to surfing the wave that comes to them. The sinister former President Rodríguez Zapatero, currently a ”mediator” in Venezuela (according to the outcome of his “mediation”, he rather seems to be an advisor to Maduro), the one who polarized the country and would have us return to the Spanish Civil War, had to live through a crisis, which had been raging since Spain adopted the euro, and was not able to handle it. His successor Rajoy (the ever-absent President), inherited a very complex situation from which we have partially recovered, like most countries, due to the artificial support of central banks more than anything else. Indeed, unemployment has fallen from 23% to 16% (still unacceptable – it is 7% in the EU). In comparison, in Latvia, with its austerity policies, unemployment has gone from 21% to 8%. Thanks to the adaptability of our businessmen, the number of people registered in our Social Security system has grown, although at a rate of only 1% per year. We have also improved our relative competitiveness and ease for doing business, where we have gone up from the 42nd place in the world to the 34th and 28th, respectively (the timid but well-intentioned 2012 labor reform made its mark), and the European rescue loans (yes, we were rescued) for our failing or bankrupt regional governments-owned banks (which accounted for nearly 50% of Spain’s financial sector) has been positive.

However, we are still in a fragile situation. With a constant deficit and a systematic non-compliance with previsions and pledges made to the EU, public debt has soared from 70% to 100% of the GDP, despite the fact that public pensions have remained frozen (0.25% per annum is equivalent to 2 more euros a month). By the way, the PP won the 2011 election, among other reasons, for opposing —with populism and demagoguery— a freeze on pensions at a time of national economic emergency. Once in power, Rajoy kept them that way: a double deceit to his voters (to whom he had promised the opposite), for he then went on to pursue the biggest tax increase of the last 40 years, another example of a management of public finances that has resulted in enormous damage to legal certainty, with its constant change of regulations, its arbitrary interpretation of them, and the defenselessness of taxpayers against the abuse of the tax collecting authorities.

From a political point of view, during its time in office, the outgoing government seemed more interested in holding power than in governing; in just enjoying being there, rather than doing something. It lacked vision and courage, deficiencies that its court of sycophants described as a matter of “time management” in the hands of a strategist (some imagination!). It leaves us now with three important problems, some inherited, some created by them.

The first problem is the Catalan attempted coup, still underway, whose remote causes are the short-sightedness and neglect of responsibilities of all central governments since Democracy was established, and whose most immediate cause is the Statute applauded by Zapatero and the two illegal referendums allowed by Rajoy. The King, the judiciary, the Guardia Civil (one of the two national police corps) and civil society itself were compelled to respond against the second pro-independence referendum in the face of the government’s inaction, for they did not see the need to lift a finger. The proof of the government’s disturbing lack of preparedness was the surprise with which it received the news that at 8.30 a.m. on October 1st 2017, the Guardia Civil had prevented, on its own initiative, that the nationalists get hold of the electoral census (which obliged them to hold a charade where there was no audit or control of census whatsoever, people voting several times, some towns even having more “yes” votes than population – amazingly the international media talking about the referendum’s “success”). On the same night, president Rajoy still insisted on talking about “dialogue”, and in the days that followed he punished king Philip’s firm speech with a surprising silence. Since then, the abhorrent neglect of government functions abroad has allowed separatists to viciously attack our country’s reputation with nauseating propaganda (fake news would be an understatement). And when a German regional court arrogantly disrespected our Supreme Court – and EU laws – and a German minister implied Spain is not a free country, the government, amazingly, let it pass and chose to remain silent.

The second problem is that 30% of our representatives in Congress belong to subversive parties, mostly communist-Leninists, radicals and separatists, alien to the concepts of rule or law or liberty. Irresponsibly enough, in order to promote the “vote of fear” and to divide the votes of the left, the outgoing government encouraged the growth of a radical communist-Leninist party by apparently facilitating its access to the media, overlooking their links to the Venezuelan regime (they have a Bolivarian genesis) and not making any criticism. In perfect symbiosis, the Communist-Leninists and ex President Rajoy fed each other. In fact, Rajoy’s Popular Party gave priority to the defense of its political space over the defense of the nation, and showed much more harshness toward the other center party Ciudadanos (who is no doubt inconsistent, opportunist and fickle, but not subversive) than toward the Leninist party, which they hardly criticized despite posing the biggest threat to the freedom of Spain since 1981.

The third problem is the consolidation of Zapatero’s sectarian social engineering laws that the PP has made its own (the totalitarian Historical Memory Law and those to do with gender ideology, among others). Strangely, all this has turned this party into an accomplice (due to apathy, cowardice or ideological affinity) of a process of corrosion of our fundamental freedoms that will have consequences; so will the wasted opportunity —with an absolute majority— to carry out profound structural reforms.

These three issues are the origin of today’s disturbing, incredibly fragile political situation, and we need our politicians to exercise responsibility. The general interest must prevail, if they know what it is.

Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo                                                                             www.fpcs.es