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Tales for Tapas: Delicate but not hopeless

A new Iberosphere column looks at Spanish news issues from an alternative angle.


Enterprising gangsters have been printing their own notes.

Speaking on Monday at a press conference in Berlin alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not the ideal place for a lively exchange about domestic politics), Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dismissed allegations of irregular party financing but then undermined an otherwise robust performance by declaring that the charges are “untrue, except for some things.”

Meanwhile, the Spanish tax authorities have ruled that a special tax return filed by the man at the centre of the People’s Party’s accounting difficulties, former party treasurer Luis Bárcenas, raises more questions than it answers. Mr Bárcenas now faces an expanding judicial investigation. His position was described this week as “very delicate”.

The financing scandal has progressed from an embarrassment to a threat. It had a negative impact on Spanish stocks and borrowing rates at the start of the week and cast a pall over Mr Rajoy’s summit with Mrs Merkel.

Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba’s call for Mr Rajoy’s resignation is certainly self-serving but his reasoning is sound. Mr Rubalcaba claimed this week that a change of leadership is needed in order “to re-establish the trust, security and stability” required to steer the country out of the economic and social crisis.

The opposition leader didn’t take the prime minister to task for his economic policies but for what he implied is a diminished capacity to carry out those policies.

It is too early to tell if the government has been holed below the water line. There could be further damaging revelations. On the other hand, Mr Rajoy’s spirited protestations of innocence could be supported by compelling evidence, and that would strengthen rather than weaken his political position coming out of the scandal.

The government has endured operatic levels of unpopularity practically since the beginning of its mandate but it has been insulated from public dissatisfaction by its parliamentary majority. If Mr Rajoy can demonstrate that his own accounts are in order – and as long as no new evidence of dodgy bookkeeping emerges – he can continue to govern with a solid majority albeit with low popular approval. The government’s position is “delicate” but not hopeless.

Illegal Tender

This might also be taken as an accurate description of the state of the eurozone following an unpleasantly difficult year in which discussion of the single currency has focused on the shortcomings of macroeconomic policymaking and the consequent catastrophic results in Spain and elsewhere.

However, there’s another problem.

Apparently the European Central Bank isn’t the only institution issuing euros. Enterprising gangsters have been printing their own notes – perhaps as much as €500 million worth over the last decade, the European Commission said this week.

And Spain has been identified as a major distribution point for this nicely produced but thoroughly illegal tender.

Just as there are challenges in coordinating economic and monetary policy across the eurozone, there are problems in tackling multinational counterfeiters. Police in one country come up against jurisdictional demarcation lines when they try to track down and apprehend criminals in another.

Bank notes, of course, don’t have any such problems. They cross national borders freely.

A new Directive proposed by the Commission seeks to reduce transnational loopholes that make it possible for counterfeiters to take advantage of the eurozone’s patchwork supervisory regime while exploiting the opportunities of the single market.

Fresh Air

Spain is next to Germany among European countries that make significant use of wind power, and it has just passed a major milestone in green electricity generation.

Since the beginning of November, wind power has accounted for more than a quarter of Spain’s total energy generation – for the first time moving ahead of nuclear and coal power.

Wind is transparent, of course, and that’s just the way political party accounts ought to be. Prime Minister Rajoy has made much of his absolute commitment to transparency since the latest scandal broke. He must fulfil this commitment, quickly and convincingly, so that the scandal does not hamper the government’s ability to govern.

Counterfeit notes, dodgy accounts – Spain clearly needs a breath of fresh air.

To read more by Anna Maria O’Donovan visit My Spanish Interlude.


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Published: Feb 8 2013
Category: Iberoblog
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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4 Comments for “Tales for Tapas: Delicate but not hopeless”

  1. Highly enjoy your fresh perspective, especially thinking about the renewable energy potential mentioned in your last bit.

    In recent weeks you might think Rajoy and Cospedal have produced enough hot air to power a thermoelectric plant

  2. Any physicist will confirm that energy may be neither created nor destroyed and certainly can’t be “renewed.” Anna might be alluding to what we would call “ambient work,” a resource that may be acquired through a variety of lethal contraptions: . I gather that, following a year of “education,” the people of Cantabria have developed a superstitious terror of hydraulic fracture. They should try living next to a windmill!

    • Ís that what you call an argument? Any physicist will tell you that your use of the laws of thermodynamics in this way is fatuous in the extreme. The term “renewable” doesn’t refer to the energy itself but to the source of the energy. If you burn a piece of coal, it’s gone. You can’t burn it again. If you use the energy of the sun to generate power through solar panels, the sun isn’t gone. It will keep shining. That’s what “renewable” means in this context.

      Old people like you and I, having done our best to denude the planet of resources so that there’s nothing left for the next generation, should really think twice before launching attempts to disprove the scientific consensus by employing half-baked arguments based on physics half-remembered from those far-off schooldays.

      I know that it’s hard to accept that we – you and I and everyone over 40 – have left the Earth in an unfit state for the next generation, but we have to come to terms with that fact and do what we can to make amends.

      Re Cantabria and the prohibition of fracking.

      The natural gas lobby have one set of reasons they roll out in public, and another set they use among themselves. In an industry-only conference they are a lot more frank:

      “Why Spain?” asked HEYCO’s Mr. Underwood, enumerating the reasons like support from the Spanish government at the national and provincial governments, “who are not taking away permits like some of our neighbors. Those permits have excellent terms. The tax structure makes it very capital efficient where you have to make long term investments… In addition, the topography’s not too challenging.” Most of acreage in the area, he explained, was grassland or cereal crops.”

      Those “excellent terms” translate into the national/local governments selling the gas cheaply to foreign extractors, while the environment as a whole (where people live) suffers damage from pollution of the water table. With, of course, the grassland and cereal crops growing over that now-contaminated water table.

      Nothing superstitious about fearing fracking, then. There’s every logical reason to stay well away from it.

  3. I spend part of the year in Wood County, Texas, where the folks know oil and which has therefore been “fracked” (hydraulically fractured to retrieve deep hydrocarbons) with none of the superstitious hysteria that appears to have engulfed Cantabria following its “year of education” (El País 30/1/13). In contrast to the mining subsidence caused by other extraction techniques, several thousand boreholes have caused no property damage whatsoever and, worldwide, only three tremors that were even perceptible to humans. Shales less than 600m below the water aquifer pose a theoretical contamination risk, but only handful of poorly constructed wells have reported problems with leakage and all have successfully sealed. As for the condition of the East Texas aquifer: Nestlé Waters recently shifted production of its Ozarka brand from the Ozark plateau itself because their customers were found to prefer the taste of Wood County refreshment!

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