Sun, sea and sangria won’t save Spain

by Edward Anderson

Spain’s unemployment number has passed a horrific new milestone.

At the start of the month, Spain created a new piece of unwanted history. With 4,008,789 unemployed it is the worst figure for the government since 2016. Virtually a million more remain on ERTE (essentially furloughed) which will need to come to an end soon.

The good news kept coming, as a cyber-attack on the Spanish Unemployment Office (SEPE) led to the wiping and cancellation of significant numbers of appointments, which are required for people to receive unemployment allowance. March has been another bad month in another grim year for Spain. Spain must be the only country where when the government announces a desire for a four-day working week, you might assume they are talking about a massive employment drive.

These numbers, of which I am one, are, of course, terrible and it would be lazy commentary to blame the current left-wing government for this (as if they had a policy of unleashing a pandemic) but a cursory glance at the figures shows that this problem of high unemployment was endemic in Spain well before the crash.

Indeed, at the same time in 2017, Spain had unemployment of 3,750,000. This is a systemic problem in Spain. Admittedly, much of the country still has its bars and restaurants under severe restrictions except here in Madrid, where the nominally conservative Partido Popular (PP) has made it a point to keep them open as much as possible. They look set to be rewarded for this at the snap Madrid regional election scheduled for May, but this success will likely hinder, not help, conservatives when it comes to looking for answers to Spain’s problems.

What Covid laid bare and these figures again illustrate is the folly of dependency on the low skilled, insecure and unproductive mass tourism model. Not only has this left the economy more vulnerable, with the major spikes in unemployment in the very sectors connected to the mass tourism model, it also means that between the months of January to April unemployment shoots up.

This means growing numbers of your own people will have an existence at best, not a life, and certainly no potential to lead a conservative one. Why would you have kids or make long term plans if you are essentially living from pay cheque to pay cheque, and you are booted from your flat for tourists every 9 months?

Well, as Spain’s horrific birth rate shows, you won’t. Reality is transience, insecurity and an inability for people to form mutual bonds that shield them from the power of the state and the market. This is not a society any conservative should wish to see resurrected.

Spain is a country characterised by permanent insecurity. Unemployment for many, and for those with a job a status of being permanently on call despite only being paid for a fraction of those hours. So, although I gently mocked the idea of a four-day working week (although at a time when your economy is tanked it’s the perfect time to try it), it is at least the beginning of attempts to lance the boil of Spain’s high unemployment, high hours and low productivity problem.

On the other hand, the conservative party in Spain (PP) seems to think that all will be solved if we can get back to the glory days where Airbnb made buy-to-let landlords oceans of cash, immigrants were paying exorbitant rent whilst doing the awful jobs, and Spaniards in their 30s were stuck in their parents’ house.

If that is all you are offering, then you shouldn’t be surprised when your country’s greatest export next year will be its people under thirty. It shouldn’t need to be said, but you cannot build a conservative society on tourists having a relaxing cup of cafe con leche in Plaza Mayor.

The model before wasn’t working. For conservatives in Spain who look at PP’s success in Madrid, a simple warning. The potential short-term success of PP by banging the tourist drum might lead to short term gain but it’s a road Spain has walked down before. The only destination on this road is collective national suicide. Unless long-term solutions are looked for, the despair will continue.

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