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Success for Rajoy in Washington

Spain has ceased to worry American leaders as it did during the depths of the crisis

The blessing accorded to the dawn of economic recovery in Spain, received by Mariano Rajoy both from Barack Obama and from the managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, confirms and highlights the country’s emergence from recession — the latest data on which coincided with the prime minister’s Washington trip. Rajoy heard praise of his “great leadership” from the president of the United States, but the positive effect of the visit was not just that of an operation skillfully orchestrated to bolster the prime minister’s image.

The key lies in the fact that Rajoy now represents a country for which, in May 2010, the American president expressed his “support” and “solidarity” — in the words of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, his then interlocutor — in the task of implementing the advice of his vice president, Joe Biden: to win the confidence of the markets, even at the cost of “tears and suffering,” also in Zapatero’s words. Three-and-a-half years later, the economy of the country that gave them such cause for alarm has ceased to be such a worry for the US leadership — a welcome development in terms of attracting potential investments and lowering the risk premium, which in turn facilitates the balancing of public accounts. All in all, this constitutes a relief for the taxpayer.

That all this must translate into more perceptible improvements for wide sectors of the population (the unemployed, the retired, companies on the verge of bankruptcy, whole sectors in states of collapse) is no mere detail, of course. This is why it is well to remember that this breathing space is still some distance from constituting a real, sustainable recovery: a distance which must be measured in terms of a substantial reduction in unemployment, which currently still exceeds 25 percent of the labor force.

It would be a mistake were the government to allow any feeling of complacency to inhibit the program of reforms. Because the trend to recovery is still weak and reversible, and because no one should be more aware than Rajoy that the lion’s share of the cost has been contributed by the Spanish public (workers, civil servants, businessmen), by massive inputs of financial aid from the EU, principally in the form of the 41 billion euros injected in the bank bailout, and by means of frequent gestures of support from the European Central Bank (ECB).

Leaving the economy to one side, little need be said about Obama’s silence on Catalan secession. This is obviously an instance of respect for an internal affair of Spain, whose head of government had just assured his interlocutor, in the White House, that no such secession could never take place. Empty and pointless are the adjectives that come to mind regarding the efforts of the Catalan government’s spokesman, Francesc Homs, to construe Obama’s silence in any other sense, as if the whole world revolved around the issue of Catalan nationalism.

Meanwhile, Rajoy expressed his own satisfaction with the explanations received concerning NSA surveillance only a few months after the controversy about the agency’s spying practices as revealed by Edward Snowden. This means one less obstacle in the way of the good relations that now exist between Madrid and Washington; a pity that the Spanish public still awaits explanations in this area.

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