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The opposition is back – but who is in power?

Por: | 12 de septiembre de 2012

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It has been said that the difference between Spain and Portugal is a year. But while the government in Madrid grapples with the decision on whether to formalize a full bailout request and its counterpart in Lisbon continues to roll out the concomitant austerity measures, one element in both political scenes has come into synch at the start of the new term. The socialist opposition parties have decided that the time for loyalty to center-right governments who inherited emergency situations is over. Rugged opposition is to be the order of the day. In reality, both formations were understandably in self-flagellating mode, the apparent outbreak of institutional responsibility little more than a sense of mea culpa decency as both the Socialist governments of Sócrates in Portugal and Zapatero in Spain had charted unsuccessful paths through the international credit crunch.

Now a face-saving number of months have passed (nine months for the Spanish PSOE and 16 for the Portuguese PS, which asked for the European bailout itself) and there are a dazzling array of truly ugly government policies to pick on. Passos Coelho has introduced healthcare charges, slashed pensions, eliminated holidays and last week announced an effective seven-percent pay cut for the entire nation’s workforce in the form of an across-the-board rise in Social Security payments. The courts had told the government it was discriminatory to remove only public workers’ Christmas payment – so Finance Minister Vítor Gaspar was told to look for alternative budget savings. His latest idea certainly cannot be described as discriminatory!

Portuguese Socialist leader António José Seguro, the successor to José Sócrates, has had enough. Noting that the deficit target for this year will almost certainly not be met and that unemployment has risen to more than 15 percent, he asks: “What good has come from all the pain and sacrifices that the Portuguese are going through?”

Spanish Socialist Party leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba has moved somewhat faster. In spring he was still eager to press the case for a cross-party pact with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, hoping to loop a few salutary red lines around vital services to cushion the austerity blows for the most disadvantaged. And despite being roundly snubbed during the spring period when 2012’s belated state budget was being finalized, the PSOE was still there for Rajoy’s government when summer arrived and the vote on ratifying the EU Budgetary Stability Pact came around. Now he is saying that calling for a bailout will be “Rajoy’s certificate of incompetence.” A bit rich, maybe?

Why the sudden change to a more aggressive form of opposition? It is worth noting that both countries are heading for elections, with the Spanish regions of Galicia and the Basque Country going to the polls next month. Portugal’s local elections are coming up next year. It could also be legitimately argued that a mainstream expression of disapproval toward austerity measures is important for the cohesion of society at a time when some citizens’ protests are crossing the boundary between peaceful resistance -– like the original 15-M take-the-square movement -– and criminality, as has been seen in a spate of symbolic supermarket robberies.

But is the whole concept of opposition to government austerity measures somewhat disingenuous if these are effectively being imposed from the outside. Passos Coelho is fairly sanguine about what is expected of his administration by the troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF), saying last week that “Portugal is now seen in a far better light from the outside than when we asked for the bailout.” In Spain Rajoy is intent on holding on to his fig leaf of authority. He tried to set his own deficit target for Spain, insisting it was a sovereign issue, but was forced to smile grimly as Brussels lowered it once more (though still allowing a little extra leeway). VAT was not something he wanted to raise, but he bit that bullet too. Even his absolute red line on pensions now seems less stubborn than before, recently replying to journalists in his first televised interview as prime minister that any reduction in retirees’ allowances would be “a last resort.”

Given this order of things, is opposing “government policy” anything more than empty posturing?

Photograph: The Spanish Socialist Party's federal executive meeting earlier this month, by Álvaro García.

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Thanks Martin. You are quite right and I have fixed the short-cut link from our home page.

The link doesn't lead to the story re Barcelona football club and Catalan independence, but to another story.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Jessica Jones. Hailing from the north east of England, Stockton-on-Tees native Jessica has had a passion for all things Hispanic from an early age. She has lived in and written about France, Chile, Spain and Germany and has been contributing to the Trans-Iberian blog since 2012, when she moved to Madrid after graduating from Durham University.@jessicajones590

Joseph Walker. A graduate of Leeds University, Joseph is a sports journalist based in Madrid, and has written on and covered a wide range of events, from the Champions League to Gibraltar’s first ever UEFA match and Spain’s national rugby team. He writes columns for several websites and will pen his thoughts on the latest goings on in sports-obsessed Spain. You can find him on @joe_in_espana

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Jeff Wiseman is an experienced journalist and comedy writer. He was formerly editor of ‘InMadrid’, a monthly English-language newspaper in the Spanish capital, and has contributed scripts and sketches for radio and television in the UK. Published his first book, ‘Shawley Nott: Comic Tales from England’s Strangest Village’, in 2013.

Billy Ehrenberg is an Journalism MA student at City University in London. He lived in Spain for three years, in Granada, Madrid and A Coruña, translating and teaching English. He has written for The Times, The Western Morning News and The Plymouth Herald in the UK and has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2013. He enjoys telling stories with numbers and infographics, data visualisations and general statistical tomfoolery. He tweets from @billyehrenberg

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisf3757

Eloise Horsfield is a writer and translator currently based in Seville. Her work has featured in various UK nationals including the Daily Telegraph and The Sun. Originally from London, Eloise cut her journalistic teeth at the Olive Press, an expat newspaper on the Costa del Sol. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @EloiseHorsfield

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