This time should have been different, as last chances always are, but fear and uncertainty are revealing a difficult path ahead. Social unrest sets in when crises follow one another and, if disenchantment and frustration give way to anger, we can expect tough times in which we will not only have to resist but also fight actively in favour of progress. If progress means healthy democracy, economic growth and cultural exuberance, then the task ahead demands the best of everyone.
Our society is facing the consequences of new shattered expectations. This time we thought we were coming out of the crisis, but we are not; individually and collectively we will have to come to terms with reality and this means dealing with the permanent crisis.
When we were leaving the debt and austerity crisis, we entered a pandemic that slowed down the recovery of the economy and, when we started to take off our face masks and recover living spaces, Europe has gone into war.
Cool heads will be needed to manage this situation, because the displeasure, fear and disappointment are dragging on and converging in a new crisis. Ours, like so many others, is an irritated, disenchanted society, which will turn to indignation and revolt if measures are not taken to prevent it. We saw Paris in flames with the gilets jaunes and we may not be far from our own social outburst if the economy continues to deteriorate at the rate it is, affected by inflation.
More pro-European than ever
After the anguish of 2008 with austerity policies, in the last two years, Spain has benefited from the lessons learnt by the EU. Indeed, when it seemed that public (and therefore private) finances would have to re-establish financial stability mechanisms, flexibility was maintained and the ECB came to the rescue by maintaining the purchase of public assets to ensure crisis response in the form of money pipelines to cushion the downturn. Public deficit and debt ceased to be the great obsession and access to money and debt buybacks allowed a different and less crude response than in the previous crisis. The social protection measures of furlough, health spending and some direct aid cushioned the fall, but brought the deficit data up to 11% in a country with budgetary imbalances such as a public debt of 119% of GDP.
Putin's invasion of Ukraine comes with a Sánchez government with little fiscal margin, but which will have to act to avoid the effects of the energy crisis. Numerous groups in the primary sector see the precipice to which the price of energy, cereals and fertilisers are leading them. Farmers, stockbreeders and fishermen will see prices rise even more or they will not be able to resist. In the meantime, the Spanish government hopes that the measures to reduce the price of energy will be taken in Brussels and that it will be spared. It wants to reduce the energy bill, which is unaffordable for many self-employed workers, small businesses and families, by putting an end to energy companies' so-called windfall profits.
It is time for more stimulus, even though there is less room to do so, as the European Central Bank will stop buying debt at the pace it has been doing so far. This will mean difficulties in financing if the ECB does not go on buying the money that is issued. It is true that public finances will benefit from the growth of revenues from the collection of VAT, personal income tax and social security contributions, but it will also have to face the costs of pensions indexed to a CPI that is approaching double digits.
When the channels had been established to inject money into the economy in order to recover and lay the foundations for a transforming growth with European funds, the war is shaking the ground on which we, citizens and rulers, are treading.
Sovereignty and the crisis
In an environment of economic difficulties and disenchantment, sovereigntism is cooling off or perhaps going into hibernation. In October 2017, the Centre d'Estudis d'Opinió recorded the highest point of support for Catalan independence: 48.7% of respondents were in favour of independence, while 43.6% were against. Today, 52.3% of Catalans are against it and 40.8% are in favour.
In little more than four years, sovereigntism has lost social support, has lost the parliamentary majority that allowed its presidents to be invested and is governing through a coalition with internal difficulties, but that resists.
The political climate shows a cooling off of independence. A few years after an unsustainable proclamation of independence, pro-independence parties are beginning to share a diagnosis in private, but not publicly. And neither have they overcome the betrayals they have experienced. Perhaps another time this will also be different.