Why Mr Rajoy won’t call it a bailout
The prime minister is trying to sell a sugar-coated version of events, as if all Spain’s problems are solved
On Sunday Prime Minister Rajoy was at pains to “sell” an optimistic version of the weekend’s events, affirming that it is not Spain that is being bailed out, but rather Europe that is saving the euro. He also denied having been on the receiving end of pressure from the Eurogroup: on the contrary, he said in a haughty tone, “it was me who put on the pressure.” His speech seemed aimed at convincing the voters that the EU had no alternative but to cough up the money to prevent a breakup of the euro zone, which is true enough. But between this and the remark that he was now going off to the Euro 2012 match in Poland because “yesterday’s business [was] resolved,” there is a huge abyss.
There was no way out but to placate the markets, particularly after the alarm bells that were set off by the hasty nationalization of Bankia. Rajoy omitted to explain that the funds — a mere “line of credit” for the banks, in his fallacious and sugar-coated version — would be a further burden to the Spanish state, one of its financial entities, the FROB, being answerable for them, and thus for their return; and that they will swell the public debt of Spain. None of this was mentioned by Rajoy, who did, however, take care to attribute to the curative effect of his recent structural reforms the avoidance of a formal bailout.
In contrast to previous statements, Rajoy said he had planned from the start to request EU aid. He even referred to his investiture speech in December, although in it he made no mention at all of a bailout; and denied that anything had happened between Friday, when a spokesman said the government was awaiting a technical report, and Saturday, when Economy Minister Luis de Guindos called for EU help. His only explanation was that “these things happen this way” — a stark example of political realism, of how Rajoy is prepared to deny his own words, and do U-turns as often as need be to cope with the crisis. Only in this sense can we understand how the prime minister is able to see a political triumph in what has been his worst weekend since he came to power.
Meanwhile, Rajoy did not miss the opportunity to blame the previous government for not having injected public money into the savings banks three years earlier. The bad-inheritance argument goes down well with public opinion, as polls show. The fact that half the Spanish public attribute the chief responsibility to the Zapatero government is still the PP’s best asset, at a time when Rajoy is making unpopular decisions.
Rajoy has never loved the limelight. His media appearance on Sunday was aimed at effacing the disastrous impression left by his absence from Saturday’s historic occasion, and he offered such a rose-tinted version of it that some opposition leaders felt compelled to point out that Spain had not won the lottery. What matters now is the soundness of the aid plan, which makes Spain the fourth euro-zone country to receive EU assistance after Greece, Ireland and Portugal, all countries of lesser economic weight. Far from being “resolved,” the reality is that everything remains to be done.