Last month, the European Central Bank’s President, Christine Lagarde, said it was unlikely that interest rates will be raised during 2022, arguing present inflation will be transitory. In Spain, the government has no doubt met Largarde’s remarks with relief, given that its inflated budget and shoring up of a 5.8% structural deficit relies on the continued flow of free money. With inflation recently reaching a three-decade peak, and with its recovery from the impact of COVID-19 quarantines already lagging behind other European countries, we might expect the news to be treated with prudence—as a temporary reprieve, one for which there are no guarantees—and for the government to begin addressing the aforementioned structural deficit.
Instead, its strategy seems to be to lean harder into an unsustainable model, spending European funds on growing the government through activities of dubious or no discernible economic value. Libre Mercado took a look at some of the expenses under Spain’s recovery, resilience, and transformation plan, which stipulates how EU funding from the recovery facility will be spent. Tenders currently underway include:
- €60 million towards preventing bird electrocution;
- €25 million to be spent on setting up regional “Orientation and Entrepreneurship Centers” whose role will be to foster employment and job transition, a function for which regional governments already include specialized organs. In addition, present projected fund allocation is the same for every region (“Comunidad Autonoma”), despite huge population differences;
- €4.2 million will go to the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security, and Migration’s various campaigns to promote selected policies and social causes. These will include the benefits of the government’s “Minimum Living Income” program, actions related to International Days related to gender violence, migrants, children, information campaigns on the benefits of migration, the retransmission of press conferences, streaming of ministerial speeches, and so on. This vast, European-funded propaganda initiative, it is pointed out, also falls “within the Action Plan of Agenda 2030, conforming to two Sustainable Development Goals: number 10, the reduction of inequalities, and number 16, promotion of peace, justice and solid institutions;”
- €3 million to promote gender “transversality” in employment, specifically to effect a cultural shift in the National Employment System towards gender inclusivity;
- €1 million to fund overseas stays for Spanish writers;
- A particularly large sum, €160 million, is earmarked for the “First professional experiences in Public Administration” initiative. This will be accessible to persons of between 16 and 29 years of age, with 20% of the jobs in question having to do with environmental protection, and another 20% to digitalization of services or digital skills. While increasing public sector employment, these funds will crucially not provide any job security, or even—it seems—the possibility to be renewed, going towards financing internships of between 10 and 12 months.
It is also the case that many of these tenders include components that are patently subjective, such as the creative force of the proposal. While funds are wasted, taxes continue to increase, and trust in a future recovery seems low. Household spending in Spain is experiencing a far slower return to pre-pandemic levels than in other countries.
If the European Central Bank does eventually raise interest rates—following the U.S. Federal Reserve in March 2022, as well as what the Bank of England has already announced for its part—and even if it does not, Spanish political life will polarize around those offering policies that have straightforwardly led to present difficulties, and those whose program has promised to drastically reduce a state whose regional level is notoriously hypertrophic and reindustrializing the country. VOX is the most obviously poised to take advantage of this.
The question is whether ideological messaging and appeals to regional allies and separatists will allow the center-left to form and reform its awkward coalition. Even those on the government’s payroll cannot be kept so permanently, and will suffer the effects of inflation all the same, and so are unlikely to constitute a loyal source of support. Indeed, the present government’s policies seem so unsustainable that one might be forgiven for entertaining the hypothesis that the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), no less than Podemos, is not so much interested in somehow making it work than in purposefully dynamiting the middle class and creating something resembling the third-world. Podemos has been shown to receive financing from countries who may conceivably have an interest in destabilizing Europe’s economy, but the center-left’s actions are no less consistent with a project of national sabotage. Meanwhile, the center-right Partido Popular seems to prefer a “grand coalition” with the present governing party over an alliance with VOX.
Again, this bodes well for the latter. A 2022 crisis (of sorts—not necessarily as severe as 2008 or 2012) is likely, but whereas in 2008 government waste was often met with the rhetoric of economic liberalization and the irresponsibility of national politicians with an appeal to European Union fiscal regulation, the present panorama is a different one. By emphasizing the need to both end spurious spending and duplication of roles at the regional level, while also diversifying the Spanish economy through government investment–highlighting the complicity of Spanish with European-level technocrats in deindustrializing the country–VOX’s vocation is, a priori, politically transversal.