The Final Notes from Spain in 2020 | Edward Anderson
Well, thank God that’s over. I was thinking of doing a look back at some of the lighter or dumbest moments of the Spanish political year but I feel we are all quite sick to death of 2020 and so, on a Spanish and European perspective, let’s look ahead to how this is all going to be much worse in the next twelve months.
Before we get into 2021, we do need to look at how Spain has wound down 2020. For me, it has ended with a last-minute train to Valencia from Madrid as the Government passed the power (or was helpfully handing out rope, depending on your view) over Christmas restrictions. Several regions included Valencia where I was headed promptly announced even more stricter measures, which led to the unsurprising scenes of a crowded Madrid Atocha as people tried to flee the capital on Sunday 20th before the Monday lock-out. So, some joyful statistics for you, courtesy of the Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE). Unemployment is 16.26% but this masks the many people still on ERTE which will run out soon. When it does, that figure will have a good chance of breaking 20%. For 25-year-olds and younger, the unemployment rate is an eye watering 40% and if you look at where the spike in unemployment has been, it is mostly people who are from the younger cohorts.
Hopes that this would lead to a drop in housing costs are unfounded, bluntly because although it wiped out the futures of most under 30 hardly anyone (in statistical terms) has died. So, all price drops are temporary and with Airbnb’s recent public offering in the middle of a pandemic valuing them around $100 billion (showing just how spineless most people expect governments to be in opposing them), landlords just offered nine month deals and will be removing everyone on mass for the tourists come the summer. It’s why most young Spanish people live with their parents (great for spreading viruses), it’s why Spain’s birth rate is collapsing and why Spain (if it chooses Airbnb over their own countrymen) deserves to suffer the slow painful demographic death it is on course for.
The national picture is largely as you were, with PSOE likely to head the ramshackle of themselves, Podemos and anyone else who will prop them up. PP look as unhealthy as ever, gradually being marginalised across regional parliaments and replaced as the party of the right by Vox, which should be causing some long term worries for them as once your base starts to dwindle the rot will eventually head up to the national level.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Catalonia, where the election scheduled for February shows PP are within the margin of error of being beaten by Vox, who are going to enter the Catalan Parliament for the first time. Should they overtake PP in the election (as the rest of the election is unlikely to have another major ‘story’ unless the Catalan nationalists get over 50%), the pressure on Casado will become unbearable.
Speaking of unbearable pressure, whatever difficulty Casado or Sanchez will have in dealing with the Catalan aftermath will be nothing compared to the far more important election for the Spanish economy, namely the one taking place in The Netherlands next March.
The battle between Mark Rutte’s VVD and Geert Wilders’ PVV will be one of the first tests of how much of an appetite national electorate have for European fiscal solidarity. Shorn of the ability to hide behind the UK’s fiscal conservativism, Mark Rutte became one of the most vocal proponents of the ‘Frugal Four’ countries demanding that money given to Spain is in loans and not grants.
That level of pragmatism is nothing compared to how stringent he will have to sound come the election in March. The resurgence of PVV in this electoral cycle, which at one stage looked likely to be replaced, is nothing short of remarkable and they have a strong possibility of gaining their highest number of seats (even surpassing the 24 representatives in 2010).
Although there is no real chance of VVD being anything other than the largest party, coalition partners in a term where massive public spending cuts will have to be made will be thin on the ground. The Labour Party, who got pumped in 2016 down to nine seats after joining the government in 2012 with 38 (and have never really recovered) means they will not be anywhere near a coalition. As a result, at least 50 seats will be off the table to form a coalition. The weaker the majority, the worse for European solidarity. We won’t even get to how the Auntie of Europe, Angela Merkel, is buggering off before Germany’s Federal Election next year…
So, one terrible year comes to an end, whilst the short and long-term damage for Spain in 2021 looks set to be a whole lot worse. Whether it is suckling on the tourist teat that is killing their own country or the fact European elections could mean the taps for further support are firmly turned off, Spain looks doomed. Happy New Year.