Germany votes: what does Spain think?


In the last of an ECFR blog series looking at how the German elections are being seen around Europe, we turn to Spain. 

Back in 2012, Rajoy's conservative government felt that it was often let down and cornered by Germany. Tensions flared in the first semester of 2012, as Spain’s risk premium exploded and the country was placed on the verge of full intervention by the Troika due to its collapsing savings bank sector. Fearing that the comfortable absolute majority which the conservatives had taken 8 years to build would be wiped away in just one semester, the dominant feeling about Germany was bitterness and criticism over what Spanish elites perceived as sheer intransigence. As Spain missed deficit targets one after another, and social tensions exploded due to austerity induced cuts in health, education, pensions, and labour markets, Rajoy went against his conservative instincts and turned to Hollande and Monti for help. Tensions with Germany increased all through the second semester of 2012, due to what the Spain government perceived as cold feet on the crucial issue of banking union.

However, the OMT decision of September 2012 dissipated the risk of complete intervention and, even if the banking system was still ailing, made financial implosion much more unlikely than in the past. As Brussels relaxed the austerity drive and the risk premium went down, the Spanish government, despite a severe penalisation in polls, has enjoyed a period of unusual tranquillity. As a result, the battles against austerity of 2012 have been left behind. Just two weeks ago, on September 4th, in a Financial Times interview, the Spanish finance minister, Luis de Guindos, lauded austerity as a success. With its strong export performance and growth in competitiveness, "Spain", the minister said, "will show clearly the quality of the policies implemented in the Eurozone."

Spaniards expect very little from the German elections. Two things explain this: firstly, polls suggest Mrs Merkel will continue in charge, and Spaniards are by now quite familiar with her preferences; secondly, despite the flaws in the design of the euro and the incompetent management of the euro crisis by EU leaders and institutions, Spaniards accurately attribute most of their ills (especially unemployment) to domestic factors and thus think that the cure to their problems lies more in political and economic regeneration at home (ending corruption and changing the economic model from construction to R&D) than in miracles coming from abroad. When Germans vote, Spaniards want little and expect even less. 

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