Esperanza Aguirre set to take the wheel.

By Michael Mifsud.

Her name means hope but in this instance it means a little more than that,  for the very presence of Esperanza, the controversial and sophisticated President of the Madrid Community, already speaks of her future role in the leadership of Spain.

For those with a feel for the urges of destiny and its political “expressants”, there is no shadow of doubt about the outcome of the next general elections which may come sooner than the intended end of term vaunted by the present Prime Minister, Luis Zapatero. But things are not easy in the Iberian front as the economy begins to illustrate what many have suspected and which most have papered over – that it was never there in the first place. It certainly looks like that with the disastrous economic figures that should have, by now, forced the country into ruinous bankruptcy. Spain is a relative newcomer to the modern world of Europe and its strategic position within the landmass, made her a useful ally and potential partner in the construction of a unified economy. It has not turned out that way with a tendency on the part of the lower European members to dig into an antiquated and reclusive nationalism directly contributing to increasingly convergent economies set out to carve their own courses at the expense of the genuine European contributors. Spain, like Portugal and Greece has not emerged from the downturn produced by the simple lack of tourists and the incredible property bubble that has all but destroyed the majority of the foreign investors whose nest eggs have been dragged into the vortex. Little hope of recuperation and crippling designer taxes set on taking whatever is left from those who left their own shores to settle in what appeared to be an idyllic place, has brought many to the point of rescue by other members of the family. The hot spots like the Costa Del Sol, overbuilt and incapable of controlling its own effluence has further damaged the delicate ecology of the one time enchanting Mediterranean seashores.

Concentration on massive building on ribbon development scale has completed the picture of what is now a social wasteland devoid of the basic recreational necessities for communal living that does not end up consequently, at the local bars. Greed and corruption has destroyed an economic dream gone sour, but worse, as tourism, the lax and lonely supporter of the national budget, threatens to bring a veritable house of cards down. No significant effort has been made to create employment and worse still, where the effort has succeeded to keep the figures apparently moving, it has been in the public sector with a Government bill and employment ratio that speaks volumes of political incapability of understanding the nature of genuine job creation. In the worst hit ares of Southern Spain political opponents have thrown out facts that have underlined the wasteful nature of national and local political expenditure with successive governments spending on itself and its own and neglecting the struggling businesses without which there would be no employment at all. Classification of employment within the public administration needs a category all of its own, since, in the main it is not a net contributor to the national economy and clearly, an unbridled expense. This adds on to the practically inexistant export market and steady decline in production infrastructure with China supplying practically every item of expendable, low cost consumer goods.

Questionable Attitudes

The lack of industrial production or the resettlement of desperately needed foreign producers on the Iberian shores are linked with national deterrents based on narrow interests in state revered monopolies and the cost of hire and fire of local labour stuck in antiquated and aggressive, overprotective unions. Modern production units with built in social and entertainment centres in the style of the British contribution to the Spanish economy in the early 20th. Century, have been conspicuous by their absence despite the obvious case for a proliferation of such efforts. These would have pushed Spain into the 21st. Century without any formal dependence on cheap tourism and modern infrastructures demanded by the new wave of foreign residents. Both factory and villa in the sun would have opened a demand that would have outstripped the local needs and set up the much needed export flow that would have guaranteed the welfare of the Spanish family for generations to come, The bad press which Spain has received over the last ten years however, has eroded the platforms on which these economic possibilities would have been launched.

The total lack of political will demonstrated in the economic figures, betray disguised import export deficits that have contributed to unattended, underlying inflation rates. This has made Spain too expensive for the type of tourism on which it fed. It is also now sending panic stricken British pensioners back to the UK leaving the sale of their properties to the market misfortunes. Taxation is also a nightmare as is also the subjective, judicial system which has been classified as “not protective” and of poor quality by most of the European media. Whereas many basic taxes have been abolished in the states of upper Europe, Spain continues to multiply them with property purchase tax running at approximately 7% and social security contributions at a record breaking 45%. Wealth tax, vehicle transfer tax, and an incredible rental income tax for foreigners (denounced by the EEC) whether they let their properties or not, begins to destabilise the foreign, second home sectors which in the main accounted to over 60 % of the restaurant and bar trade. Additionally, property purchase taxation is now dependent on municipal valuation (and not democratic free market valuation) of property, rendering buyers vulnerable to as much as double the amount. The local council amazingly determines what the property should have sold for, taxing it at whatever figure chosen – an unethical tactic hitherto unseen in Europe.  In the private sector this would be called fraud. The legal system is incapable of blocking what even its own administrators, classify as illegal tactics based on a form of indirect taxation much criticised by the European Authorities. Europe however, simply denounces.

Esperanza Aguirre stands in the wings with no magic wand, but already her foreign public appearances have ingratiated her to the citizens with her liberal approach to social structures and now see her as a potential Margaret Thatcher for the country. She is probably the only Spanish politician of any standing who can speak good English and she is viewed with caution by those whose power would be left in the shadows if she made her way to the leadership of the party. There is a hint of optimism in political circles that this will not take too long. Both the previous Prime Minister, Jose Aznar and the present Mariano Rajoy have left Spain particularly unimpressed with their theatrically structured and hollow attacks on the present Socialist ruling party and it is very doubtful that either will make it to the next General Election. A similar situation arose in the Thatcher days and it was a foregone conclusion that the thrust of a totally novel concept into what appeared to be a never ending, crisis ridden, political scene would attract voters. It did and temporarily shook the country to its feet. The same happened in Turkey and Pakistan with results too difficult to interpret out of context, but without doubt, Spain will be the next entrant in the female achievement scenario. It will also, for reasons to do with her liberality and lack of the sort of chauvinism which is killing Spain, prove to be a future platform on which a hopelessly lost economy can be restructured within intelligent and more family and business oriented efforts.

A Woman of Destiny

Esperanza Aguirre studied law and like Thatcher whom she confesses to have been attracted by (except for her stance on the Tyrant Pinochet), keeps her iron rod well hidden from public view, showing a Shirley McClaine front that reveals little other than the impact of her innocuous, not so politically correct, occasional remarks. She is the mother of two and married to an aristocrat who also happens to be successful in his career. She is presently President of the Madrid community equivalent to the London County Council and one time President of the Senate which is also equivalent to an, Upper House Parliamentary Speaker. Political conflict has never been her chosen aim, but within the ranks of the right wing party, Partido Popular, her liberal characteristics have kept its leaders casting glances in her direction with a degree of disquiet. Some serious brush ups with both the leader Rajoy and the uninspiring, ever popular, Mayor of Madrid, Gallardon have enkindled what is now a dawning realisation – that she will lead the party to electoral success.

During the course of the year, events will force her into the open as the crumbling support for who must now be the most disliked leader in Spanish history, Zapatero, reach dangerous levels of public unrest. Whilst not all the ills of Spain can be laid at the feet of this relatively young but weak socialist, it is now increasingly obvious that despite the major institutional and economic changes that he pontificates at every turn, both unions and rabid left wingers frighten him into submission at every turn. Labour and judicial legislation which lie at the heart of lack of serious investment, has been tackled in this expected time bomb now full of grey areas, which converts it into a disappointing useless squib. The balance of support for industry and stimulation of confidence in overprotected employees lends no credibility to a new scenario, where employers can distill quality and contribution from a low standard labour pool intent to work arrogantly and exclusively for the periods of paid unemployment it provides in the future. Spanish labour syndicates continue to militate for shorter and shorter working hours, longer holiday periods, more festive days and increased minimum rates way above those provided in Europe generally. Employers turn away. Labour courts can bankrupt most small businesses with hefty penalties running into the thousands plus salary payments long after the employee has left. It will also deny witnesses from within the employer´s direct influence and subject him or her to an intolerable, humiliating series of appearances and long journeys. As a result, investment capital has started to leave the country and the local self employed have restricted their expansion within family members. The situation also contributes to the underground economy which in most Latin Countries is much bigger than the surface one. This situation will remain and even prove dangerous when tackled, since it could throw an even greater number of people onto the unemployment queues which are now stretching way round the blocks. Spain therefore needs an injection of genuine values devoid of party political sectarian interests and prevalent corruption that has kept a handful of people among the richest in the world at the expense of the rest. It also needs to re-establish institutional ethics to render those bodies of any public use. Most are membership conscious and find it difficult to relate to complaining outsiders with the resulting loss of social balance mechanisms that make investing in Spain a non too digestible spectre.

Esperanza Aguirre was expected to make a public statement to the effect that she is conscious of her possible contribution to the aspirations of her country, but the stalemate between her and the prevailing party authorities can only be broken with the sort of public demands expected during the course of this year. This situation, according to many within the body of the party, is rapidly coming to a head. If this is the case, an early election could be on the books, not by consent but by force of circumstances and the escape valve will be no other than the redoubtable charismatic and very willing Esperanza.

Michael Mifsud was Parliamentary correspondentat the age at 15. Royal touring writer and Agency Commonwealth writer, he published Britain’s first trade journal for drivers and established the first ever chauffeuring profession and academy. He is a millionaire businessman, hotelie amd restauranteur. As a researcher he was a contributor to The Holy Blood and Holy Grail. Messianic Legacy. Sword and the Grail.He is a Freeman of the City of London and has Dynastic Orders of Merit of Poland, Afghanistan and Serbia. He is also a member of the Council of Elders of the Knights Templar (Versailles 1705) and author of the popular book Al Andalus – a trail of discovery.Amazon.

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