Ms Von der Leyen, Ms Merkel: Help!
If there is no God, then you two are the only people who can sort things out a bit
My dear ladies, when I was a young boy and a certain problem wouldn’t go away, people would resort to faith: “It will be alright, God willing”. I do not know whether there is anything God can do about the problems I will be telling you about —I’m agnostic, so that’s that—. However, I am convinced that if there is a God, you two take second place. And if there isn’t, then you are the only people that can sort things out a bit.
Personally, I’m all for austerity. I embrace the views of the so-called “frugal four” (Austria, Denmark, The Netherlands and Sweden). I’ve always felt that you shouldn’t live beyond your means. Furthermore, how can you possibly help a member state that tolerates a corrupt monarchy? But, of course, Europe faces a grim prospect unless EU handouts line “the same old pockets”.
At next weekend’s European summit Mr Sánchez —I mean the Spanish PM, not the Catalan political prisoner— will display the typical verbosity that has given the Spanish-speaking world its legendary reputation as a land of conmen. Therefore, I beg you to ensure that any aid sent to Spain gets strictly scrutinised vis-à-vis the reforms that the country needs. I will be outlining some of them below, but only a handful. And please do be careful. Don’t forget that bullfighting was invented in Spain and Madrid is its capital.
Public finances. In Spain we have got used to enjoying the sort of public services that are typical of Scandinavia, but with Spanish productivity. As you can imagine, this is not sustainable. It is advisable for public services to receive adequate funding, so either more tax revenue is collected (and in a different manner), or else the services must be streamlined. Some of the benefits we enjoy here, you haven’t got back in your home country, even though both of you come from wealthy nations.
Employment. Some sectors in Spain resort to foreign labour while the domestic unemployment rate, before the pandemic, was 14 per cent. How can that be tolerated? I am afraid many prefer to collect unemployment benefit rather than earn a pittance. That needs to be fixed. Salaries should cover basic needs as well as pay for public services, and the unemployed should be expected to take a job once they have turned down a number of offers. Like in your own country, no less.
Red tape. I am talking about the thickly woven web of public notaries, registrars, local government, agencies and so on. I mean that setting up a company or starting a new retail business is a lengthy ordeal in Spain —it is the European country where this takes the longest—. And it’s all to sustain a system that public workers such as Sánchez and Rajoy do now want to bring down. Spain has too many civil servants —and others employed by private companies— who live off the state’s coffers. I don’t know whether we have too many civil servants, but those that we do have must be put to work following market standards. Like you do in your own country.
The judiciary. Spain’s justice system is noxious for the economy. It is ineffective, sluggish and stinks of corruption. That’s why companies prefer to resort to private arbitration courts or agree to vexing conditions rather than waste years litigating. Here’s an idea: why not make Spain follow the instructions issued by Greco, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption? Consider this for a moment: a German court (the Supreme Court of Schleswig-Holstein) released the president-elect of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont. In contrast, some of his cabinet ministers and other innocent people who chose to stay in Spain have received the stiffest of sentences for smaller crimes.
Impunity. We all know it is hard to punish the mighty. In your home country, too. But any bias in Germany is smaller than in Spain and it usually stems from market forces. Not here. In Spain it comes from the extractive economy: the monarchy, cronies, illegal contracts, cliques of old pals, government contracts, etc. You must both understand that your country required foreign help to get rid of the Nazis and their heirs. Please help us now to get rid of the heirs of Spanish fascists and other bloodsuckers who feast on public funds and still populate Spain’s institutions: Madrid’s court of auditors, the judiciary, government mandarins, the monarchy, electoral boards, boards of directors of public firms, royal charities, political parties and so forth.
Wrapping up. This might be a tall order, but you must understand that Spain will not undertake any reforms unless you two make it do so. Some equate Europe’s attitude to that of an arrogant loan shark. They speak of “the men in black” when, in fact, they refuse to see that the only black stuff here is Spain itself, the enemy within. Please help us. Believe me, God won’t do more than you two.