POLITICS

Prime minister ducks this year’s state of the nation debate

Tentative pact undermined as opposition turns on government over silence on EU package

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday confirmed he would not be staging the annual “state of the nation” debate, which usually takes place in summer. The Popular Party leader said he would in fact not be honoring the tradition at all during the first year of his legislature, citing “precedents” since the return to democracy.

Only in 1990, after general elections were brought forward to October 1989, has the debate not taken place. The prime minister’s decision will add further fuel to the opposition’s accusations that he is dodging the serious matters of state in hand. Rajoy has so far avoided a congressional grilling over the terms of the bailout approved last week and is not due in the chamber until July.

Twenty-four hours is a long time in Spanish politics. A day after the government and the main opposition Socialist Party sought to show a united front ahead of a vote on Thursday on the fiscal stability pact, a session of Congress degenerated into a war of words over culpability for the 100-billion-euro bailout to recapitalize the Spanish banking sector agreed by European finance ministers on June 9.

In the absence of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who on Wednesday was attending the Rio+20 sustainable development meeting in Rio de Janeiro, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and Economy Minister Luis de Guindos, it fell to Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro to face a barrage of questions from the opposition benches. However, no Socialist probing proved sufficient to cajole the minister into revealing any details about the exact nature of the bailout, which the government has consistently denied constitutes a rescue package similar to those applied to Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

All of the opposition groups in Congress have accused Rajoy of not telling the truth behind the bailout and of ducking the issue by avoiding an appearance in the chamber. The prime minister has stated he will not face his interlocutors until an obligatory session in July following the EU Summit on June 28, during which the Spanish economy will be firmly under the microscope.

It is the PP that has had to ask for outside help and a bailout”

“Spain has not been rescued because it does not need to be rescued,” said Montoro on Wednesday. The minister termed reports in the British press of an impending mass purchase of Spanish and Italian debt worth some 750 billion euros as part of “a battle against the euro.”

During the congressional fracas, Montoro raised his doubts over the “intellectual ability” of Socialist spokeswoman Soraya Rodríguez, who responded by calling for a wholesale amendment of the bailout request. Rodríguez also stated that Rajoy had “made a fool of himself” at the G20 meeting in Mexico. Barack Obama has called on Spain to “clarify” the situation over the bailout.

European leaders assured the US president at the G20 on Wednesday that they would announce a plan to combat the euro-zone crisis, probably at next week’s EU Council meeting.

However, despite a series of behind-closed-doors meetings between Rajoy and his Socialist counterpart, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the unity intended to calm fears among international investors of a further downward spiral in the crisis appears to be further away than before.

Montoro said in Congress that a “message of confidence and tranquility is needed,” while accusing the Socialists of “stoking alarm.” The minister also fell back on a staple of the Rajoy administration, accusing the previous Socialist government of passivity in dealing with the financial crisis when it was in office.

Rodríguez leapt on the comment to rail against the PP’s “shameful fiscal amnesty,” whereby tax evaders can declare previously hidden cash at a 10-percent tax rate. She also pointed to the “clamorous absences” of senior government members such as Santamaría, who was in the Canary Islands receiving the Chinese president on a stopover. “[Santamaría] enjoys Congress much less when she is the one being questioned,” Rodríguez noted with irony.

“It is the PP that has had to ask for outside help and a bailout,” Rodríguez added. “[Rajoy’s] great lie has lasted nine days,” she added in allusion to the prime minister’s assertion that the bailout was a triumph for the nation. Rajoy was at pains to make plain when the fund was agreed that he had pushed for it, not the other way around. However, world leaders are now calling on Spain to formally apply for the bailout as a matter of urgency. “Spain has the support of the members and institutions, and the express support of the G20 for the government’s program, including the recapitalization of the banking sector,” Montoro declared.

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