On 20 November Spain will hold a general election. This blog will cover it live from Madrid. This is the second preview post on this mid-economic crisis European election. (For the first build-up article, click here)
“Es necesaria una Revolución Ética”
(An Ethical Revolution is needed)
As European leaders inch closer to a deal to shore up the continent’s leaky defences from the tidal waves of debt and deficit smashing against them, anti-capitalist protests have been continuing across the world. The Occupy Wall Street demonstration is the most well known but these public manifestations of anger do not have their roots in Manhattan but in Madrid. Demonstrations against “corrupt politicians, businessmen, bankers…the defencelessness of the ordinary citizen” have been staged in Spain since the spring, when los indignados (the indignant ones, the outraged) first occupied the Puerta del Sol square in the centre of the Spanish capital.
Of all the demonstrators across the world, it is the Spaniards who will be the next to face an election, on 20 November. On a recent visit to Madrid there was a resounding feeling amongst many people I spoke to of the need for a deeper political and societal change, not the simple switching of government from left to right, as looks set to occur in three weeks.
Los indignados are not party-political and they strive for a Spain that does not simply swing back and forth between the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) and the PP (Popular Party). The former, (the government), is accused of exacerbating the crisis and now reacting with chilling austerity measures; the latter, (the opposition), is viewed as having close ties to the big business and large corporations the protesters see as the spark of a culture of greed and deprivation.
They are both seen as an obstinate political class favouring an “obsolete and unnatural economic model”. They are accused of not paying attention to basic rights and of ensuring the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the protesters want a re-alignment of this ‘broken’ society. The desire to break free from a two-party system will not happen and social modification can take generations to come about but the protesters’ wish for financial change is a more realistic aspiration. However confused their demands may be, the indignados movement has spawned a rolling global protest.
In three weeks’ time the spotlight will roll back over Spain and the indignados movement have ensured that their global call for an “Ethical Revolution” in times of economic crisis cannot be dismissed nonchalantly by complacent politicians.
Is re-election possible for Barack Obama?
The US presidential election that will take place on 6 November 2012 is by no means a shoe-in for the incumbent, Barack Obama. If he wants to win the next election, Mr Obama will have to dispense with the entrancing speeches of dreams that powered his bid in 2008. It will not be enough to captivate and walk among the people: he will have to speak for them. He has a gritty, attritional and difficult fight ahead of him.
The Republicans are convinced that they can make Obama the first president since George H. W. Bush to serve one term in office (although Bush Senior’s stint in power did follow fellow Republican Ronald Reagan’s two terms, giving the Grand Old Party 12 consecutive years in the presidency). Before Bill Clinton was re-elected in 1996, you have to go all the way back to Franklin D. Roosevelt to find a Democrat who served two terms in a row.
Obama is the underdog and he needs to lean away from the oratorical tours de force he delivered on the 2008 campaign trail. He will have to demonstrate his capability to deal with the financial crisis on a simpler, smaller, more direct scale. Millions of Americans want some tangible results from his big-hitting discourse of fairness and equality.
A big stain on his economic record was the downgrade of US debt by ratings agency Standard & Poor’s on 5 August this year. However, Mr Obama should demonstrate that a mediatory and pactist attitude is a positive aspect to his presidency. Those Americans who sang “Yes, we can” and believed in change were railing against the bullish and headstrong Bush administration. He should affirm a commitment to compromise and a humble comprehension of the grave situation facing the country. He should not be woolly; he was not quick enough to stand up for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or ‘Obamacare’, to give it its nickname.
On overseas matters, he should underline that the US does not have to go charging in on the lead horse. The UN-sanctioned military conflict in Libya was headed by NATO. So far on his watch US-led military intervention has been more subtle: Osama bin Laden has been caught; special forces have been sent to Central Africa.
Showing his calm side is fine when the discussions are modest but, at times, Obama has seemed indecisive. He needs to sharpen his weaponry if he is set on a fight because the Republicans (despite the current wrangling between the candidates) are ready for the battle. If Obama wants to continue to be sitting in the Oval Office next autumn, he needs to keep his sleeves rolled up and celebrate his successes, promote his mediatory tone and choose his aims carefully. It is an extremely hard time to be in the US hot-seat economically but he must not shrug his shoulders and sigh. He has broken many barriers to get to the top, he his going to have to break some more to stay there.
How influential are ratings agencies and their downgrades?
The weekly circus of ‘will they, won’t they’ always seems to end in ‘yes, they will’ as another country suffers another rating downgrade somewhere in the world. The three major agencies, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s of the US and the majority-French Fitch, take it in turns to lower debt and credit in a not-so-merry-go-round of economic crises.
The three agencies named above control nearly all the market between them. They rate risk and assess the strength of structures and values of various institutions. They analyse any entity, from a local council in the UK to a multi-national bank. And, of course, governments.
Politicians in those governments get worked up by unhelpful negative rating and downgrading of countries’ rescue and bail-out plans. While Greece lies on a hospital bed and European doctors argue outside the room, the credit rating warnings and negative updates are like secret turns of the key in the lock, cutting Greece off even further from hopes of a recovery. But swifter action in the first place from the EU and more attentive ears to the words of the agencies could well have led to a more positive situation than the current atmosphere.
Some politicians, such as Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, have reacted with shrugs and finger-pointing to downgrades. Certainly, after one of the big three lowers a rating there is at times a complacent attitude displayed when the other two come knocking later.
Prime ministers and bankers can work themselves into a fever trying to avoid the haunting removal of letters from a rating. The agencies hold immense power – the decision by Standard and Poor’s to take away the US’s AAA rating in August was seen as a major decision for consideration in the 2012 elections, despite the votes being 18 months away.
It has seemed in the past that patronising and slavish attitudes has been misplaced – the agencies infamously failed to forecast the first tremors of the 2007-2008 credit crisis; indeed, those tremors were hidden below the masses of top ratings the agencies were mistakenly handing out.
They do perform good work and their advisory and analytical roles on government policies, particularly the eurozone’s measures, are seen as critically useful. But they are for-profit organisations and some economic commentators feel there is a conflict of interests in their actions. They can deal heavy blows to economies and send markets into frenzies with their decisions and so, at this crucial time – especially for the euro – there is a serious need for more calm negotiation with finance ministries (who themselves must stop fudging the issue and get on with sorting out Greece). Missing the first part of this credit crisis doesn’t mean the agencies have to make up for it by being overly critical now.
On 20 November Spain will hold a general election. This blog will cover it live from Madrid. Over the coming weeks in the build-up to the vote there will be preview posts on this mid-economic crisis European election
“En España no hay nada”
(There is nothing in Spain)
This concise and brutal opinion was how a friend described the employment situation in Spain to me in a trip to the Spanish capital last week. Madrid was buzzing as we sat in a cafe in a busy square between Chueca and Gran Via. It was the last weekend of summer and the warmth of the day carried on into the night. But the rays of sunshine are not lighting the mood among the youth when it comes to job opportunities.
The twenty-something went on to describe to me how, despite having plenty of experience and relevant qualifications in his field to his name, he still found himself banging his head against an immovable job door. There is no easy route to an exit from this crisis.
This weekend, the credit ratings agency Fitch downgraded Spanish debt amid the ongoing lack of resolutions over the Mediterranean monetary maelstrom. The lack of an answer to the crisis is mirrored in Spain by the scarcity of employment opportunities. The indignados movement has exemplified the frustration of many Spaniards and their demonstrations will be discussed in the next special Spanish Election post.
Many of the españoles I met had decided to go back into education, after months of trying to use the first degree they completed to get a job. One educational option is to study a specialist subject to try to set yourself apart from the crowds. But Spain needs a boost to the economy, not class numbers. It is a not problem easily solved by more debt-building through enrolling in futher courses.
Spain’s powerhouse construction sector is faltering. The economy is critically injured. Back in the square with my friend, he paused and looked down at the table, pushed his glass to one side and reiterated firmly:
“I am going to apply to French companies now, and to London as well. En España no hay nada.”
One year of blogging – Fifty posts
On 25 September 2010, I published my first blogpost:
Latin-Persian alliance on the way?
Deciding the first subject matter for a blog that deals with global events was difficult but Latin America is close to my heart and it seemed a natural place for me to begin. However, despite my intense interest in the region I have tried to offer a different perspective on a wide-range of world issues. Here is a selection of the countries whose affairs have been discussed right here:
I have also confronted cross-border issues and here is a selection of those:
South China Sea disputes
Islamic policy in the European Union
Nobel Peace Prize
Female presidents in Latin America
African policy towards Colonel Gaddafi
Thank you everyone who has taken part, commented and read any of the 49 previous articles.
I will continue to cover as wide a range of international affairs as possible and I welcome guest articles on global matters.
I hope to return to Spain next month and Mexico next summer to report on the countries’ general elections and I am aiming to use this website to blog live from Madrid and Mexico City. I will use Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to supplement the blog coverage.
In the meantime, please feel free to get in touch and join in the world news conversation:
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