OPINION
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De Cospedal

The PP Secretary General's testimony has shaken up the Bárcenas hearings Is it time for Spain to reform the rules of "the game of power?"

Once again the month of August is seeing a good deal more political action than we expected. Out on the horizon we have the latest fatuous crisis of the Rock, and, further afield, the ominous massacres perpetrated by the Egyptian army - matters I am not going to comment on here, as being outside my usual stamping grounds. What I do plan to comment on here is number three in the Spanish Top Ten of August: the statements made by the star witnesses Páez, Cascos, Arenas and De Cospedal, before the judge investigating the Bárcenas corruption case.

The hearing did not prima facie look promising, because everything indicated that these witnesses would do as Mas and Rajoy have done: blame everything on the naughty Popular Party treasurer, and deny under oath any involvement by themselves or the party. This, indeed, was the line taken by Cascos and Arenas, following the script written by Rajoy and the party leadership. But at last, on these dry sands, there fell a drop of fresh news. Contrary to expectations, the statements of Páez and De Cospedal were particularly juicy, turning them almost into witnesses for the prosecution. So much so that their statements ought to lead, if the judge sees fit, to some interesting face-to-face encounters among the protagonists of the drama.

If this government can so impudently ignore the Bárcenas case, it is because the present Socialist opposition lacks a bare minimum of credibility.

The most attractive case is that of the PP secretary general, María Dolores de Cospedal, whose political forwardness is only thinly screened by a de-structured style of oratory. After the celebrated epithet of "cowards" in reference to the party heavyweights who "weasel out" of the case, it now seems she is pointing directly at Rajoy and Arenas as the fixers of the "deferred severance pay" intended to seal the mouth of Bárcenas. True, it may all run into the sand; but the fact is that were it not for the steps, sound or unsound, taken by De Cospedal, there might not even be a Bárcenas case - for it seems to have been her who ousted the ex-treasurer, forestalling his blackmail. Perhaps there should be a monument to this woman. Though everything still depends on the above-mentioned face-to-face confrontations.

Whatever course the proceedings take, the truth is that August's statements in court have deepened the troubles within the ruling party. It is even being said that there is a grave internal rift, intensified by the attitude of De Cospedal herself, between those who wish to pave over everything, as they have done until now with the steamroller of the parliamentary majority, and those who would like to take the present opportunity for a complete overhaul of the party leadership, bringing in clean, fresh blood to substitute all those who have dirtied their hands or covered up for others who did. No doubt it is true that, for many reasons, there has to be a thorough cleanup of the elite that leads both of the major parties, which would include Rajoy and Arenas in the PP, and Rubalcaba and Griñán in the PSOE. If this government can so impudently ignore the Bárcenas case, it is because the present Socialist opposition lacks a bare minimum of credibility.

But it is not just a question of personnel. In fact what has to be changed is the political habit that prevails in our country: the style of know-how. To this end it is not enough to substitute the old chiefs with a new leadership team, which is all too likely to fall into the same vices as the last. Look what happened with Zapatero and his "new generation" in the PSOE, a mere Lampedusa effect ("things have to change, so that they can stay as they are"). And the same happened in the PP when, after the trauma of the 2004 electoral defeat, Rajoy's new team took over from Aznar's. Mere continuity of the same repertory of know-how, the ways of doing things.

As long as the perverse rules of the game remain, nothing will come of mere switches of personnel. What we need in Spain is a true structural reform. And it cannot be one of those neoliberal reforms recommended by the IMF, but an authentic institutional reform aimed at regenerating the rules of the game of power.