There is no agreement on labor reform, nor is the government bowing to pressure to reveal its plans for the 2012 budget. But these resounding differences between Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and leader of the opposition Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba did not get in the way of a fruitful four-hour meeting between the two in the La Moncloa prime-ministerial residence on Wednesday. Their collaboration on matters relating to the economy, European politics and the end of ETA marks a change in the embittered climate that had soured the relationship between Spain’s two main political parties over previous years.
Both have done well to explain to the public the importance to Spain of events in Europe, although, “complete” agreement between Rajoy and Rubalcaba with regard to the urgency of the Greek crisis is a small contribution to the efforts that other key players must make in the EU. The objective is to keep Greece in the euro, because its exit could drag along with it other countries, including Spain itself. As well as confirming the Socialists’ support for the financial reforms planned by the executive, Rubalcaba made it understood that there is a chance for agreement regarding the budget stability law, and insisted on the necessity to moderate the rhythm of change — on that last point, however, Rajoy went no further than to say he would “listen” to the opposition.
The meeting also revealed that there has been another change, in that there was no partisan confrontation with regard to matters of foreign policy and defense, as well as the fight against terrorism (it is yet to be seen how long this will last). In terms of that last issue, it is significant that the interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, has gone so far as to recognize that the end of ETA has become more of a “political” problem than a police matter.
The elevation of research and development, and innovation, to the level of “state policy” is also good news, although it has born little fruit so far other than to call on a commission for proposals to avoid sweeping cuts in this area. Rajoy and Rubalcaba have given themselves until June to agree on new appointments in four state institutions — the Constitutional Court, the Court of Accounts, the board of public broadcaster RTVE and the ombudsman — without falling foul of the impasses caused by the right that were the norm for years, but also without acting too quickly. The best solution lies in negotiation.