Sunday, 9 January 2011

A new dawn in the East

Maybe it is because I am Swedish and overly rational. Maybe it is because I run a small company where I still feel the effects of the crisis. To follow the Spanish political debate makes me nervous and impatient. But I am not the only one who is disappointed.

The least pleasant aspect of going back to Vilanova i la Geltrú, after having celebrated Christmas in Sweden, was the feeling of leaving behind an atmosphere of optimism and returning to depression. Fredrik Reinfeldt (M), Prime Minister of Sweden for the last four and a half years, today enjoys approval ratings of 72%; a percentage so high that commentators with a sense of humour draw parallels to North Korea. This can be contrasted with the situation in Spain where PSOE has ruled for seven years, but where almost 80% of the population expresses a lack of confidence in Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Recently, Zapatero himself announced that it will take until 2013 before we reach acceptable unemployment levels. I hope he is just as wrong this time as he when, in 2008, he saw the green shoots (brotes verdes in Spanish) before the crisis in Spain – and different to North and Central Europe – had not even really begun.

Some people probably feel sorry for Zapatero when Spain so often is being described as the domino tile which can cause the collapse of the Euro. Public finances here actually showed a surplus as late as 2007, so the state cannot be accused of having had chronic budget deficits. Even today, the public debt to GDP ratio is significantly lower than e.g. in France or Italy. Personally, however, I have a growing understanding of the discontent of the market. Several times, the government has announced reforms to improve the business environment, but put them on ice when the trade unions have protested.

But, lately, I have found reasons for a renewed hope. Until now we have not seen much of the trade unions’ counterpart - the employers’ federation CEOE. Its former President, Gerardo Díaz Ferrán, was deeply involved in legal conflicts with the staff of companies that he used to own, but allowed to go bankrupt, and that poisoned the media image of the entire interest organisation. But since the end of December there is a new leadership under Joan Rosell, who has already reached out a hand to the Spanish finance minister Helena Salgado.

In politics there has also been a big change. After CiU won the elections to the Catalan Parliament the party needs for the whole Spanish economy to rapidly get back on its feet. With the number of seats this group holds in the Spanish parliament, it is by itself big enough to give PSOE a majority for difficult decisions.

I hope that Zapatero will finally accept the inevitable: in order to bring down unemployment without worsening the fiscal outlook, the new jobs need to come from the private sector. That will only occur if someone believes that he or she can earn money by creating them - not by politicians continuing to focus their support on those who already have jobs.

After years of unsuccessful attempts to reach consensus with the trade unions, the government needs new ideas. Joan Rosell has his roots in the SMEs of Catalonia where, at the same time, CiU finds a significant part of their voters. Within Spain, Catalonia is known for its entrepreneurial spirit and manufacturing traditions. Imagine what a psychologic effect it could have for all business people if PSOE dared to approach the interlocutors who represent our perspective. Maybe I am an optimist in extremis, because I believe it will. I believe that we will see a new dawn. And the sun always rises in the east.

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The same post is available in a Swedish version and you can also find translations into Spanish and Catalan.

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Sources and inspiration Världens vinnare Zapatero apenas mejora en confianza
Expansió Zapatero no espera datos "satisfactorios" de creación de empleo hasta "dentro de 2 años"
CincoDí Rosell ofrece a Salgado colaborar para conseguir "lo mejor para la economía" Termina sin acuerdo la reunión entre Gobierno y sindicatos que sigue mañana

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