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The Emerging European Politics
A Tale of Two Spains

As Europe gets down to brass tacks in the wake of the Greek elections, a surprising country is emerging as a tough-love advocate—Spain. The Financial Times reports:

Italy and France may see merit in engaging with the new Greek leadership, if only to put pressure on Germany in the broader European economic policy struggle. But Spain has more reason than most to advocate a tough line against Athens, as do countries such as Ireland and Portugal.

Over the past two years, Spain has styled itself as having proved that Europe’s orthodox response to the crisis works. The country has had six quarters of economic growth, unemployment is falling faster than expected, and confidence and investment have both started flooding back.

Once an economic basket-case that came within a hair’s breadth of a bailout, Spain now thinks of itself as the Prussia of the south — austere, disciplined and ready to absorb short-term economic pain for longer-term gains in competitiveness.

All of this is true, and significantly underreported. But it would be more accurate to say that Spain’s government has “styled itself as proving that Europe’s orthodox response…works.” Large numbers of Spaniards think no such thing. Over one hundred thousand of them spilled into Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square this weekend to rally against austerity. Podemos is capturing the polls as well headlines: it is now the second largest party in Spain and climbing, with elections due later this year.

But the party beating Podemos is the ruling Popular Party, the one that’s trying to be more German than the Germans. And this makes sense. Not only does Spain have to worry a lot about its own economic fate if the Greeks are let off the hook, but PM Rajoy and his party would be in a lot of trouble politically if they put their country through the austerity ringer only to find out they could have gotten a better deal by reneging, as the Greeks might.

The emerging European politics that we have been chronicling lately is a division in opinions that runs not only along borders but right through many countries. Spain is a particularly apt example. Podemos has been aligning itself openly with Syriza before and after the recent Greek elections; Rajoy will probably continue to play bad cop against the Syriza government in the debt negotiations. In short, the Spanish parties will now oppose one another on European issues—just like they do on domestic ones.

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  • Andrew Allison

    As illustrated by Ireland, Spain and the UK, “austerity” (a politically loaded term for living within your means) actually works.

    • FriendlyGoat

      The article does acknowledge that “Large numbers of Spaniards think no such thing,” (5th paragraph)

      • Andrew Allison

        Of course the people who are suffering from having their illusory standard of living reset think that austerity is dreadful, just as the recipients of Obamaphones, or ACA insurance subsidies would squeal if they were belatedly asked to pay for them would. The sad fact, which those on your side seem unable to grasp, is that there is no such thing as free lunch — somebody has to pay for it and, as the Iron Lady famously pointed out, eventually you run out of other peoples money with which to do so.

        • FriendlyGoat

          You are making an art form out of “let them eat cake”, you know. What’s that word you used on JL? Oh, yeah, tedious.

          • Andrew Allison

            I realize that your politics prevent you from following a logical train of thought, but there’s a difference between giving them cake instead of bread and giving them cake you can’t pay for and substituting bread when forced to face facts.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I think the point of the old quote is that there was neither bread nor cake to be had when cake was suggested.

          • Andrew Allison

            That was exactly my point!

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