As for international affairs, Rajoy has lamented that foreign policy under Zapatero has been characterized by “too much Palestine and too little attention to Western democracies.” He will thus likely return to Aznar’s pro-Americanism and try to strengthen ties to conservative governments elsewhere in Europe. “Spain,” he has said, “will cease to be a burden on the EU and once again will become a faithful, reliable, diligent member.” There will be no more friendly visits to Cuba, no more warm welcomes for representatives of the Palestinian National Authority, and no more lobbying to take Hamas off the EU’s list of terrorist organizations.
This market-friendly, socially moderate plan will surely face strong socialist opposition. The PSOE, however, is deeply embedded in infighting. Rajoy’s opponent in the election, Pérez Rubalcaba, seeks to replace the retiring Zapatero as party leader. Some party members prefer Defense Minister Carma Chacón, one of Zapatero’s new breed of young and attractive (though deeply shallow and incompetent) socialists. The same goes for Patxi López (52), president of the Basque Country regions, whose policy of reaching out to ETA’s political wing failed badly.
Then there’s Tomás Gómez (43), the socialist leader in Madrid (where the PSOE had its worst election ever) and former mayor of Parla (pop. 120,000), which he left on the brink of default. In the wake of this disaster, one-quarter of Parla”s municipal civil servants have been fired and some city services, such as public transport, are collapsing because workers aren’t being paid. All this is the result of socialist incompetence, not economic crisis. The once promising Gómez is now, it appears, a falling star.
For the socialists, then, the options are wide open. Perhaps another young leader will emerge, or a former regional president unseated by PP may run. The question is whether the socialists will opt for the radical left-wing agenda proposed by Rubalcaba during the campaign – namely, across-the-board tax hikes, more government intervention in the economy, more affirmative-action policies, no labor-market reform, and refusal to comply with the EU’s demands for austerity, deficit reduction and debt repayment – and thus further alienate the PSOE from Europe, or will try to lure back voters with a more reasonable approach.
An even bigger question is how the Spanish people will respond to the painful cuts ahead. Yes, voters understood they were voting for austerity – but many Spaniards simply don’t know what economic cuts feel like because they’ve spent most of their lives in prosperity. Many commentators have likened Rajoy’s speeches to Churchill’s 1940 “blood, toil, tears and sweat” address. Most Spaniards, especially the young and the urban, seem to like the lyrics – but will they be prepared to dance to a new, less exuberant, more sober beat?
Golmar is a political scientist and translator based in Madrid.
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