Tales for Tapas: Leaving Spain
Rajoy's strong mandate, the Spanish exile...and a fond farewell.
People have been leaving Spain – the prime minister to attend the European Summit, large numbers of Spanish and foreign citizens to seek their fortunes elsewhere, and at least one police patrol-boat (reportedly) to explore the waters off Gibraltar.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy set off for this week’s European Council meeting in Brussels with an unusually strong mandate to “fight for Spain” (the striking expression sprinkled liberally into media statements by government spokespeople) having secured cross-party support for a ten-point negotiating platform.
The platform is not substantially different from what Madrid and other capitals on the EU’s troubled periphery have been demanding for months. It includes faster, deeper banking union, faster and more targeted steps by the European Central Bank to support small and medium-sized enterprises, and faster and more effective youth employment assistance.
Unless things go wrong, the last of these will include a multi-million-Euro youth-employment scheme previewed earlier this week by Employment Minister Fatima Báñez.
The problem, however, is that while Spain’s political stakeholders may have got their ducks in a row, the other leaders sitting round the table with Mr Rajoy in Brussels are in disarray. The governments in Paris, London and Berlin are all under pressure to adopt measures that are more consistent with national self-interest than with pan-European solidarity, and in Italy the coalition implications of the latest judicial chapter in the unedifying demise of Silvio Berlusconi have weakened an already weak government. Meanwhile, the mandates of the European Parliament and the European Commission are winding down.
Mr Rajoy may have gone to Brussels with an unusual degree of support but he will not find the negotiating climate in the European Council conducive to positive or decisive results.
A Spanish diaspora
The growing number of Spanish citizens seeking employment abroad may have better prospects. Skilled migrants to Colombia and Peru – two countries that, according to figures released this week by the National Institute for Statistics (NIE) have seen a spike in immigrants from Spain – are likely, for example, to discover that the decision to travel has been a good one, at least from the perspective of employment opportunities.
Just under 50,000 Spanish citizens emigrated in 2012, while an even higher number of foreign residents – almost 420,000 – upped sticks and left the country. Spain’s overall population dropped by 114,000.
These numbers raise the spectre of a return to the harshest years of the last century, when cities in Europe and America were host to sizeable (often restive) communities of Spanish emigres.
On the other hand, the latest NIE figures also show that in 2012 almost 315,000 people actually immigrated to Spain – which does rather moderate the gloomy picture of systemic national decline.
The Guardia Civil patrol-boat that sailed out of Spanish waters (depending on your point of view) last weekend in pursuit of a Gibraltar-based British jet-skier is variously reported to have fired shots, not to have fired shots, to have been engaged in legitimate anti-smuggling activities, and not to have been engaged in anything at all.
The Gibraltar dispute has heated up in recent months, with some British politicians suggesting that the government in Madrid, faced with a rising tide of popular opprobrium, is striking a nationalist pose over the Rock in order to distract attention from its other problems. Naturally, the Spanish authorities deny any such motivation.
Proposals to resolve the dispute tend to founder on questions of national pride (predictably to the fore in British newspaper reporting of the jet-ski incident).
Still, if Prime Ministers Rajoy and Cameron can emerge from this week’s Brussels summit with something to show, then making progress on a Gibraltar settlement should not be beyond the reach of their respective governments – which will in turn allow calm to descend once more on the world of Sunday afternoon jet-skiing.
It has been a great pleasure to write this column, but a compelling urge to embark on new adventure – possibly to sail across the Pacific or climb one of the lesser Himalayan peaks – means that this will be the last. To those who have read this far, thank you and adios!
To read more by Anna Maria O’Donovan visit My Spanish Interlude.
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