Madrid's mantra: Spain is not Greece
MADRID - Agence France-Presse
Pablo Iglesias (2nd R), leader of Spain's anti-austerity party Podemos (We Can), and other party members arrive for a news conference at their headquarters in Madrid, Spain, July 6, 2015. Reuters Photo
Greece's economic turbulence is dominating political debate in Spain ahead of a year-end general election, with the ruling conservatives pointing to Syriza's difficulties to discredit its Spanish ally Podemos.
In the escalating tug-of-war between Athens and its international creditors, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government is pushing the message that its reforms have stifled the risk of contagion from Greece and the two nations are not comparable.
"We have the instruments... to deal with market volatility," Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said July 6, a day after Greek voters defiantly rejected terms for a new EU-IMF bailout.
He said Spain's banks had been shored up, the public deficit more than halved, and "macroeconomic imbalances have been corrected", with the government forecasting growth of 3.3 percent this year.
Spain's economy is much larger than Greece's -- it is the fourth largest in the eurozone -- and its population of 47 million is over four times greater.
Even so, there are intriguing political parallels between the two nations.
In Spain, as in Greece, the Socialists were in power when the European debt crisis struck in 2009.
Greece's public deficit stood at 12.7 percent of its economic output while in Spain it reached 11.1 percent.
Spain's conservative Popular Party swept to power at the end of 2011 in a general election on promises to reduce the country public deficit and prevent bankruptcy. In June 2012 a right-left coalition came to power in Athens.
In both nations, austerity budgets were adopted against a backdrop of recession and a sharp rise in unemployment.
Greece received two bailouts worth a total of 240 billion euros ($265 billion) while Spain received an aid package for its ailing banks of more than 40 billion euros.
Anger over the austerity measures imposed by the so-called "troika" -- the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- helped Greece's radical left party Syriza win a general election in January 2015.
Opposition to belt-tightening has also driven the fortunes of Podemos, a close ally of Syriza that was founded only last year. Opinion polls say it is running neck and neck with the ruling Popular Party and the main opposition Socialists.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias on Sunday hailed the outcome of the Greek referendum as a victory for democracy.
But the Popular Party says Greece's refusal to adopt tougher reforms should be a cause for concern.
Pablo Casado, the party's campaign chief during May local and regional elections in which it took a battering, warned that under Podemos, Spain's economic recovery would be derailed,
"Podemos would do as in Greece," Popular Party spokesman Javier Baroto said July 7.
In Greece, "many people are living under a bridge or on the edge of an abyss", he said.
Podemos accuses the government of scaremongering.
"They try to spread a message of fear to the population, to create the idea that we can't have policies that are different from those that are decided by the 'troika'", said a Madrid city councillor, Romy Arce.
While Spain has returned to growth, unemployment remains high and Podemos still has margin to tap into voter discontent over the state of the economy.
Nearly three in four Spaniards, 71.5 percent, feel the nation's economic situation is "bad" or "very bad", according to a survey by the government Center for Sociological Research published Tuesday.
Spain's unemployment rate stood at 23.8 percent in the first quarter. Within the eurozone, only Greece's jobless rate -- 25.6 percent -- was higher.
Other mainstream parties in Europe are also facing the rise of groups raucously campaigning against austerity or Brussels.
In Finland the right-wing Finns Party became the country's second-largest party in an April general election.
In Denmark the anti-immigration Danish People's Party finished second in a June election while in France one in four voters are believed to back the far-right Front National ahead of December regional elections.