It all began with the megalomaniac T-4 airport terminal at Barajas in Madrid, planned in 1996 as soon as José María Aznar got his hands on the purse strings of power. It was supposed to be the biggest in the world, and it's certainly in the running. It was to cost 1.033 billion euros, which, by the time of its inauguration in 2006 under Zapatero, had swollen to 6.2 billion, a cost overrun of 500 percent.
The monster was handed over entirely for the use of the national flagship airline Iberia, sold off at low cost by the Aznar government in 1999. Prominent among the buyers of Iberia was the regional savings bank Caja Madrid, which took a 10-percent share, later progressively jacked up to 24 percent. The operation was sponsored by Esperanza Aguirre (minister in the Aznar government and then regional premier of Madrid) and managed by Miguel Blesa, president of Caja Madrid, both of them Aznar cronies from way back. By what must have been Herculean efforts, Blesa reduced to garbage what had been a solid, respected, competitive banking entity. Not even Rodrigo Rato could straighten it out.
Result: at the end of 2012, Bankia, Caja Madrid's successor, had been bailed out with 24 billion euros of public money, which comes from all our pockets; but the Madrileños in particular may be left without their once-solid bank. Bankia finally sold its controlling package in Iberia, now merged with British Airways. The merger was perhaps not a bad operation, since at least it kept Iberia afloat. But none of the promised conquests materialized; it is now reduced to a branch, barely capable of serving Latin America, its supposed natural market. It is losing money hand over fist, at the rate of 1.7 million euros a day.
El Prat is now a Cinderella airport, abandoned by Iberia, though it feeds the only profitable line, the Barcelona-Madrid route
It has to be admitted: the T-4 and Iberia are a desert. Why? Perhaps because the user rates imposed by the state airport agency AENA on Iberia are excessive. But the fact is that AENA is losing money, with a rate deficit of 250 million annually. Is this not the fault of the post-Franco centralism that shaped this monopolistic airport policy, hostile to private and local competition?
Perhaps because traffic volume is in a slump. But why? This has been the best tourist season in the history of Spain. But traffic to Madrid shrank by 7.7 percent in the first eight months of 2013. Or perhaps because Iberia (and thus Barajas) is still held hostage by the pilots. Their collective bargaining agreement prevents any cession of the T-4 to low-cost flights and companies, such as Iberia Express. These are the companies with which El Prat in Barcelona has had to survive (and which now exceeds Barajas in traffic). El Prat is now a Cinderella airport, abandoned by Iberia, though it feeds the only profitable line, the Barcelona-Madrid route, that monopoly incapable of reacting to the new competition of the AVE high speed train. How admirable, the industry and public works ministers hopping around the world trying to save the Madrid monster complex - something that nobody did when its Barcelona rival was going under.
Perhaps the quadruple chain of ruin Barajas-AENA-Iberia-Bankia will not be actually lethal to the ethnic-economic biomass of a state that lives in Tibetan isolation, as Agustí Calvet memorably put it. But it is bad for those around it, and their friends. As is the bankruptcy of the radial toll roads and related routes (260 kilometers in total), also creatures of Aznar and Aguirre: badly designed, because of competition with toll-free roads, and starved of traffic. Since the state ends up picking up the bill, presently a bankruptcy of 3.6 billion will fall on the taxpayer, in Madrid and elsewhere.
But Aznar is not responsible. It is the spendthrift regional governments, according to Aznar's think-tank FAES (which the taxpayer also subsidizes). Meanwhile we wonder why the Catalans think the "Spanish state" is a racket and a sinkhole for their taxes.