With Mariano Rajoy’s swearing-in ceremony around the corner, it is still a big wonder why he has refused to reveal his big belt-tightening plans for Spain. His long-awaited announcements are making many Spaniards and the markets jittery.
Yet the Partido Popular's prime minister-elect doesn’t seem to care. He feels that because he won by a landslide last month, voters have now given him carte blanche to do anything he wants. There are a few who know of what’s to come. Nick Clegg spent more than an hour with Rajoy last week and later told reporters that the PP leader has an “ambitious” programme on his agenda. Judging by what is going on in Italy with Mario Monti’s recent austerity moves – pension cuts, public sector pay freezes and retirement age boosts – we can just about expect that similar measures will be applied here. Fortunately, many of those ingredients of the Italian crisis management recipe have already been introduced here by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s Socialist government. But what is frightening is that Rajoy is expected to fashion even tougher measures in line with what Europe’s “co-presidents” – Merkel and Sarkozy – are demanding.
Rajoy is waiting until after his swearing-in – slated for sometime after December 20th, probably the 21st – to tell the nation what is in store for them. He has promised to reveal part of his agenda to colleagues from the European People’s Party (EPP) when he meets with them in the next few days. Why is it taking so long for Rajoy to assume the reins of government? The maximum 25-day delay is imposed by the Spanish Constitution. According to Article 68, “Elections shall take place between thirty and sixty days after the end of the previous term of office” and “Congress so elected must be convened within 25 days following the holding of elections.” This is one of the reasons we are all holding our breath.
After Rajoy is “appointed“ by the king and during his investiture, he must tell Congress what his plans for Spain will be for the next four years. So we should get some inkling of what we can expect by Christmas.
There have been some revelations, however. Rajoy has given the trade unions and big business the opportunity to come up with their own plans for labour reform by January 6th. If not, the PP will go ahead and decree its own job reform package, which by all accounts will not sit well with the leftist parties and the trade unions. Last year, Zapatero tried to iron out labour reform measures through marathon meetings with the trade union representatives and members of the businessmen’s confederation, CEOE, but it didn’t work. When that fell through and the Socialist government went ahead with its own decree, the PP was the first in line to take pot shots at Zapatero for “imposing” laws that were not favourable to anyone. Now it seems Rajoy will be doing the same.
The PP is also keen on abolishing, or at least refining, the number of work holidays that Spaniards are entitled to each year. This week, we have seen two holidays – Tuesday and Thursday – with regular work periods in between. According to some estimates, the extended two-holiday weekend period cost the economy some €12 billion. The PP has offered to allow Spaniards to celebrate certain commemorative days on Mondays and Fridays – and not in the middle of the week – in order for them to have a three-day weekend similar to what occurs in the United States. With regard to this proposal, both labour and the CEOE say they agree.
The upcoming legislative term no doubt will be filled with tension, broken promises and vague plans for the future. The PP has a maximum of four years to show that it can run this country better than the Socialists have done in the past past two legislative terms. As this crisis continues to unfold, many Spaniards who are not particularly fond of the PP are now resigned to telling themselves that they really don’t care which party or politician will take the credit for putting Spain back on its feet; they just want someone to get it done and to do it now.
By Martin Delfin.
Martin writes for the English Language version of El Pais