The next Spain
It’s by no means certain that the Spanish state set up in 1978 will survive to hold general elections in 2015. Could Mariano Rajoy’s government be the last ever?
By Alan Murphy
There’s an overwhelming consensus all across Spain that “we can’t go on like this”. Yet there’s an equally determined belief within the Rajoy government that we can, and in fact will, go on like this until it somehow gets better. Which means that someone – either the government with its faith that everything will come out well, or the entire population of the country, who believe that it won’t – has got it wrong.
In this article I will take it as an assumption that the existing state of Spain will not be able to survive long enough to hold general elections again in 2015, and that therefore Rajoy’s Partido Popular government will be the last of the 1978-model Kingdom of Spain. How will the final act play out? We can imagine four possible scenarios.
Scenario 1 – Financial meltdown
Some time during 2013 or 2014, the risk premium shoots up again, and further borrowing on the markets becomes impossible. Bailout time.
The troika imposes the most stringent bailout conditions to date, and effectively dissolves the Spanish government to rule directly. There may be a fig leaf of national sovereignty left, but nobody will be fooled. The troika forces restructuring of the state, maybe even imposing a system of independent judiciary over the heads of the elected so-called “representatives”. Of course, this liberation from the clutches of the Spanish establishment will come at a severe social cost, making more than half of the country unemployed. Which brings us to…
Scenario 2 – Tahrir del Sol and the Constituent Assembly
It’s no secret that 15M/Indignados and others plan to make this a hot summer. They are energised like never before by disgust at the Super Sleaze Tsunami as the Bárcenas and Gürtel portions of it become apparent. If protest becomes permanent in Madrid and other major cities, the government will move to close it down by force. There then follows a familiar pattern of resistance and escalation of protest to a critical point.
The armed forces will probably sit this one out as they did in Egypt, only declaring themselves on the side of the rebels when it becomes clear that the civil government has failed to restore order. After that, Spain will become a shaky new republic. But it will remain in the EU and can expect some support to complete the transition to democracy with the minimum of instability. And if the armed forces do indeed stay out of it, it’s even possible that the 2014 transition will achieve what the 1978 one never did, and provide a modern democracy with accountability and an independent judiciary.
Scenario 3 – Mad Max and the Eternal State of Emergency
We’re already quite far along the road in this scenario, which seems the most likely and in many ways the grimmest. This is simply the tale of a failed state which fails slowly, so each day is incrementally worse than before. One day someone steals all the copper cable on your street, and there’s no money for more, so the street remains dark. Nobody pays the nurses, so they wander off. Policemen do a little private security work on the side for the guy who runs the local whorehouse.
The first phase in any scenario like this is that the legal system ceases to function predictably and you don’t know what the rules are at any given moment. Today I went to a pharmacy to get a prescription, and they charged me the €1 Catalan surcharge, which has been overturned by the Constitutional Court. I politely refused to pay it. They said “OK, not everybody pays anyway. We’re not even sure we’re allowed to charge it legally any more.” This is the grey zone, where laws are only as strong as the belief you have in them, and if you cease to believe in them, they just evaporate.
The recklessly arbitrary way that the justice system has been implemented in the last year shows all the signs of a state just on the brink of collapse. All the myriad little irregularities add up to a state failing, transitioning to an arbitrary condition of lawlessness. No law at the top, where important people walk away from criminal acts, and no law at the bottom, where the pharmacies don’t know if they’re collecting a tax or committing robbery.
In this scenario of constant decline, much more time is bought than any other, because without a single event to define it, the end comes on slowly and incrementally. Piece by piece, emergency powers are assigned to the government and underpaid police officers are tasked with keeping everything going. There’s no one day when you can say “the state dies”. It just attenuates until it offers no services, no security, nothing but patchy control over the scrabbling population.
Scenario 4 – Balkan Breakup
This one is just not convincing, at least in its full Balkan version. Sure, the Constitutional Court could issue a warrant for the arrest of Artur Mas and put him in jail. Sure, the Catalan government could unilaterally declare independence. But then what?
For a war to break out you need to have people ready to fight and die for a cause. I think you’d be hard put to find more than five Catalans today who would be prepared to risk their lives for Artur Mas. Sullen passive resistance is more likely than armed opposition, especially since Catalans don’t have weapons.
Though it was favoured by Tom Clancy in his day in the thriller Balance of Power, with Catalans taking the place of nasty Serb militia, this scenario reads pure Hollywood.
Not that some elements of this scenario can’t appear to trigger the other ones. If the secession of Catalonia goes ahead at the same time as a massive street protest and the royal succession destabilises Spain, the tension level will go off the scale, making any one of the previous scenarios more likely.
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Published: Jan 23 2013
Category: Featured, Politics
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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Tags: bailout, Balkan Breakup, protest, spain, spain crisis, spain economy, spain news