Sunday, 17 February 2013

You'd know what a Draghi it is to see you

I was sick last weekend. Nothing important: just some spluttering and coughing and a day spent mostly in bed, the consequence of travelling too far and working too long hours in the winter cold. Somewhere in the six hundred-plus kilometres between Valdepeñas and Huesca, on the Friday, my immune systems broke down, just as our headlights were to do the Monday after, a little north of Zaragoza. The latter problem was fixed with a screwdriver and a couple of new bulbs. The former, with a little rest and time. If only all recoveries could be so swift.

On the Tuesday, we were in Madrid. So, as it happens, was Mario Draghi, addressing the Congress of Deputies, the Spanish equivalent of the House of Commons. This, you would think, was an important event, and so it was. This, you would think, was important enough to be broadcast to the Spanish people, the electorate. But it was not.

The speech took place in closed session. No microphones were allowed. No cameras were allowed. The president of the European Central Bank came and spoke to the Spanish parliament - the representative, elected body of the people of Spain - and nobody was officially allowed to film it, or record it.

The individual responsible for this outrage - and it was an outrage - was, strictly speaking, Jesús Posada, the President of the Congress of Deputies. Posada, son of the fascist civil governor of, successively, Soria, Burgos and Valencia - and a civil governor of Huelva himself in the days when such an office still existed - has a background in authoritarianism more than sufficient to explain why he thought this a proper way to proceed. However, as it couldn't have happened without the consent of both the Partido Popular leadership and Draghi himself, one needs to look more at contemporary trends in governance, rather than the legacy of Franco, to understand how such a thing could have occurred.

Perhaps this is best done by explaining what Draghi wanted. Draghi, who said he came to listen, an unlikely claim given the circumstances under which he was speaking, was here to demand a timetable from the Spanish government. A plan, a detailed plan, stating what cuts they proposed to make and what tax rises they proposed to implement.
Es importante que haya un plan fiscal a medio plazo, con información detallada con los recortes en de gasto y los potenciales aumentos de impuestos.
Un plan fiscal. Whose plan? To whom is it to be delivered for their consideration? Evidently, not the Spanish people: this is not something on which they are to be consulted. This is for the approval of Mario Draghi and the financial community, on whose behalf he travels to Madrid - and invisible to the Spanish people, although he is in their parliament, insists on being given a specific list of cuts, at their expense, at the earliest convenience of the government which they elected, supposedly to represent them.

I said that the office of civil governor no longer existed. No indeed. These days we have somebody similar, but much more powerful. Every bit as arrogant. And even less accountable.

It is hard to imagine such a thing happening in the House of Commons, but even if it were suggested, you like to think that there would be a scandal. No news programme would lead with anything else for days. Last Tuesday, however, the evening news on TVE, squeezed into half-time in the Valencia-PSG match, led with the resignation of the Pope, a gigantic story in its way but one that was already a day and half old.

They then proceeded to cover protests in the Congress of Deputies (yes, the same one) over repossessions, the suicide of a retired couple in Mallorca when their house was repossessed, the government's attempt to declare bullfights "patrimonio cultural inmaterial" and Rajoy's appearance at a conference organised by The Economist. All these items, before mentioning that just that day, Mr Draghi had come to tea. Oh, and that not everybody was pleased that his visit occurred in bizarre, insulting and undemocratic circumstances.

All of these stories were important in their way - the struggle against evictions is quite likely the biggest movement, and biggest issue, in Spain - but the imposition of draconian measures in parliament, to allow an unelected foreign official to make a secret speech dictating policy to that parliament - you would have thought this was more important than sixth or seventh place in a truncated news bulletin. I mean a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable. Now it's actually happening, you'd have thought it was more important than anything else.

Now TVE news has a reputation, fairly well deserved, for presenting the news in such a way that the PP government are not unhappy with it. They did, after all, following the election of 2011, put their own man in charge to make sure that this was so. But maybe it's also that we're getting used to this. Perhaps the whole idea is to get us used to this.

We have had Papademos and we have had Monti. Prime Ministers have been foisted onto countries without those countries having any opportunity to vote for them - if Prime Ministers, why not economic programmes? Why not insist on them at closed and semi-secret meetings? What Rubicon would that cross that has not been crossed already?

Democracy is a habit, which it has taken some time to learn. It is a habit we are being made to unlearn, now that disastrous and gigantically unpopular economic programmes are being foisted on most of Southern Europe, programmes to which their populations have not consented and against which they have protested in huge numbers. In such conditions, meaningful consultation is impossible.

This is not necessarily something that inconveniences the governments involved. What better excuse for taking unpopular decisions that that you have no choice, than that a bigger boy told you to do it? There are advantages in being a rubber stamp, and other governments, with more experience than Rajoy's in doing what they are told, have found it comfortable to become civil governors where they were previously more than that.

Show me a bully, and I'll show you a bumkisser: show me a bumkisser, and I'll show you a bully. In an article today in the Sunday Independent, Gene Kerrigan, talking of the Irish government - which has never shrunk from taking orders from outside, and never ceased to like it - writes thus:
The Cabinet doesn't take its policies from the Dail and Seanad, after open debate. Quite the reverse. It uses a whipped parliament to rubber stamp policies drawn up with the counsel of unelected "advisers" and outside bodies (such as the ECB, and business interests it "consults").
We have, in Spain, our whipped parliament, with (unlike Ireland) its absolute majority. We have the outside body, whose representative arrived on Tuesday. We have a parliament whose majority is already prepared to act as a doormat - what substantial difference is there between that and a rubber stamp? And as it is, already, a bought-and-paid-for party which possesses that majority, what difference does it make, to a reputation it will never again have, if it behaves like a bought-and-paid-for party for somebody else?

The truth is that although in one sense, in an important sense, Draghi is dictating to Rajoy, they need one another. Draghi needs somebody to present him with the cuts and the timetable that he wants. Rajoy needs somebody to tell Spaniards that, in contrast to everything they can see around them, we are in fact on "un buen camino" and recovery will be with us soon. That is why Rajoy had Draghi over, and why he went to Germany to the week before.

The fix is not yet in. Iniciativa per Catalunya Verde were sufficiently outraged by the restrictions to ignore them, video Draghi and put it on their website.

A small, but not unappreciated act of defiance, among the many acts of defiance that are turning Spain into a permanent demonstration against austerity. Mario Draghi claims that he is listening. Perhaps he does believe in listening - people listen to him all right. But only when they are allowed to.


  1. Typo: "In an article today in the Irish Times" should refer to the Sunday Independent.

  2. Thanks, I've corrected. Must be mixing him up with Fintan O'Toole. Though you'd think I'd work it out from the URL.

  3. I am noticing the eviction issue coming up a lot in the local news and press, large crowds gather in parts of Santa Cruz Tenerife to try to halt evictions. Also crowds there prevent police and transport staff from detaining people to get on the middle doors of Buses without paying. Paul Wilson.