Ben Harris-Quinney: Can change in Europe begin in Spain?
Ben is Chairman of The Bow Group and President of Conservatives Abroad Madrid. He also writes for the Spanish newspaper La Razon.
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After 7 years of government the PSOE will be swept from power in Spain, but the greatest challenge for the opposition Partido Popular, perhaps in the history of the party, has only begun.
Mariano Rajoy begins the Presidency facing the record unemployment and debt that has been a feature of the Spanish economy for some years now, but also a recent rise in borrowing costs that served as the final tipping point to push the Greek and Italian economies into terminal status.
There will be no time to delay in implementing the economic plan that Spain will rely on to save itself. The lesson from the Coalition government in the UK of swift and determined application of a comprehensive programme of cuts will prove a highly relevant model for Spain.
There is much to suggest that the experience and character of President Rajoy and his government is well suited to the challenge, where Rajoy will struggle is finding his voice on the international stage which is increasingly crowded by strong voices keen to influence the future of the eurozone and global economy.
Whilst open discord between nations in Europe has thus far been minimal, there have emerged clear differences as to how to move forward through the eurozone crisis. Relations have remained cordial between Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron, but differences on policy are clear. Cameron has remained critical and opposed to eurozone membership from a British perspective, citing the eurozone crisis as vindication of the Conservative Party position. Conversely German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble has been equally critical of Cameron’s position “criticising from the sidelines” and has recently stated that future UK membership of the eurozone is inevitable.
The new Spanish government’s early movements in Europe are likely to dictate relations for at least the duration of its term in office, whether Spain adopts a position closer to the UK or to Germany. The recent change in the Italian Premiership in the appointment of a committed Europhile in Mario Monti means that Spain will be under pressure from France and Germany to fall into line in the same vein. The door of number 10 will always be open to Rajoy if he seeks to rebuild the relationship between the UK and Spain that flourished under the leadership of Aznar and Blair, but much has changed since the early 2000’s and it will now require a greater leap of faith on both sides.
Where Spain falls ideologically could be just as significant for the UK, another major voice calling for reform in the EU could be enough in the face of the crisis to prompt real change, supported by a groundswell of discontent among the European populous. A chorus of leadership in Germany, France, Italy and Spain however, will be enough to shout down the UK, marginalise calls for reform and prove significant in pushing forward the kind of fiscal regulation that could severely damage the city and the UK economy as a whole.
To build a successful partnership with Spain the UK will have to put as much effort into the relationship as it does into the special relationship, or any other. To this end the Conservative party is ill equipped, and despite widespread prediction across Europe for several years that the Partido Popular would be successful in this weekend’s election, attention from the UK Conservatives has been luke-warm and slow to react.
The Conservative Party still has friends and allies in Spain that have great respect for the UK, but that respect must be reciprocated and advanced at the most senior level of our government if progress is to be made and if real change in Europe is to begin in Spain.