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« Dutch Freedom Party pushes euro exit as €2.4 trillion rescue bill looms | Main | Apple Incorporated or Silver Wheaton Corporation? »
Tuesday
Mar062012

Spain's sovereign thunderclap and the end of Merkel's Europe

The Spanish rebellion has begun, sooner and more dramatically than I expected.

As many readers will already have seen, Premier Mariano Rajoy has refused point blank to comply with the austerity demands of the European Commission and the European Council (hijacked by Merkozy).

Taking what he called a "sovereign decision", he simply announced that he intends to ignore the EU deficit target of 4.4pc of GDP for this year, setting his own target of 5.8pc instead (down from 8.5pc in 2011).

In the twenty years or so that I have been following EU affairs closely, I cannot remember such a bold and open act of defiance by any state. Usually such matters are fudged. Countries stretch the line, but do not actually cross it.

With condign symbolism, Mr Rajoy dropped his bombshell in Brussels after the EU summit, without first notifying the commission or fellow EU leaders. Indeed, he seemed to relish the fact that he was tearing up the rule book and disavowing the whole EU machinery of budgetary control.

He is surely right to seize the initiative. Spain’s economy will contract by 1.7pc this year under his modified plans and unemployment will reach 24pc (or 29pc under the 1990s method of counting). To compound this with manic fiscal tightening – and no offsetting devaluation – is intellectually indefensible.

There comes a point when a democracy can no longer sacrifice its citizens to please reactionary ideologues determined to impose 1930s scorched-earth policies. Ya basta.

What is striking is the wave of support for Mr Rajoy from the Spanish commentariat.

This one from Pablo Sebastián left me speechless.

My loose translation:

"Spain isn’t any old country that will allow itself to be humiliated by the German Chancellor."

"The behaviour of the European Commission towards Spain over recent days has been infamous and exceeds their treaty powers… these Eurocrats think they are the owners and masters of Spain."

"Spain and other nations in the EU are sick and tired of Chancellor Merkel’s meddling and Germany’s usurpation – with the help of Sarkozy’s France and their pretended "executive presidency" that does not in fact exist in EU treaties."

"Rajoy must not retreat one inch. The stakes are high and the country is in no mood to suffer humiliations from a Chancellor who is amassing all the savings of Europe and won’t listen to anybody, as if she were the absolute ruler of the Union. Merkel and the Commission should think hard before putting their hand into the sovereignty of this country – or any other – because it will be burned."

This then is the fermenting mood in the fiercely proud and ancient nation of Spain in Year III of depression, probably the worst depression the country has seen since the 1640s – or have I missed a worse one?

As for the "Fiscal Compact", it is rendered a dead letter by Spanish actions.

Gracias a Dios. If the text were enforced, the consequences would be ruinous. It enshrines Hooverism in EU law, and imposes contractionary policies without the consent of future parliaments – including any future Bundestag. Indeed, it probably violates the German constitution.

But it won’t be enforced in any meaningful sense because the political realities of the EU are already intruding, and will intrude further. A president François Hollande of France will rip it up.

The Latin Bloc is awakening.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has covered world politics and economics for 30 years, based in Europe, the US, and Latin America. He joined the Telegraph in 1991, serving as Washington correspondent and later Europe correspondent in Brussels. He is now International Business Editor in London

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