Europe
1:44 pm
Mon June 11, 2012

Spain's Leader Calls It A 'Victory,' Not A Bailout

Originally published on Mon June 11, 2012 5:10 pm

A day after getting approval for a financial rescue he vowed Spain would never need, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said it was his idea all along.

"No one pressured me into this. I pushed for it myself, because I wanted a line of credit," Rajoy said. He refused to call it a "bailout." He called it a "victory" instead.

Most Spaniards don't buy that. In a poll published Sunday, 78 percent of respondents said they have "little or no" faith in Rajoy and his ruling conservatives. That's just six months after they won elections in a landslide.

Over the weekend, Spain became the fourth and largest eurozone country to request a financial rescue. Europe has offered up to $125 billion, but it's not clear how much of that Spain will need or accept.

Rajoy has tried to reassure the Spanish public this EU loan will come with few strings attached, and won't affect the country's deficit. But economists and EU officials say that's not the case.

"Of course, there will be conditions," says Joaquín Almunia, the EU's competition commissioner. "Whoever gives money never gives it away for free."

EU and German officials say there will be oversight. The International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank plan to supervise the restructuring of Spain's banking system.

But because official terms of the bailout haven't been made public, nor even finalized, it's their word against Rajoy's at this stage.

For their part, Spanish leaders point to the tens of billions they've slashed from budgets already this year.

Help For The Banks

Economist Gonzalo Garland, at Madrid's IE Business School, says it's fair for lenders to set conditions for loan repayment — but not to set policy.

"It makes sense that you tell me what I have to do in terms of when that money has to be returned, what interest has to be paid, what are the typical financial requirements that make sense," he says. "But do not tell me when I have to raise the retirement age or what is the level of the pensions. Because that's not what we need right now."

What Spain does need is immediate help for its banks, weighed down by real estate debt. But Spain is also struggling with its deficit, which was three times EU limit last year.

An EU loan will make that even worse, says Megan Greene, with Roubini Global Economics.

"It will certainly be foisted onto the state's balance sheet, so we will see Spain's public debt rise," she says. "That will in turn cause the deficit to rise as the government struggles to pay the interest cost for a higher debt burden."

That's not exactly a reassuring prospect.

The bailout news hit this weekend when many Spaniards were preoccupied with European soccer championships, and trying to escape the heat.

At a public pool in downtown Madrid, kids splash unaware as adults discuss the bailout.

"I am unemployed, but in four days, I will travel to Australia. So that's not a problem for me," Daniel Blanco Ramos, 34, an information technology specialist. He's having one last swim before giving up on Spain. He and his friends laugh at how Spanish politicians won't use the word "bailout."

"They are trying to use better words," he says with a laugh, "but the fact is, this is a real rescue."

Will he come back to Spain someday?

"Maybe one or two years later, we can start to fix our problems, but I think this is not the end," he says.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

I'm Audie Cornish.

And we begin this hour with a bailout. Spain is now the fourth and largest country in the Eurozone to request a financial rescue. The news broke over the weekend. Europe has offered up to $125 billion. It's not clear how much of that Spain will need or accept. In a few minutes, we'll look at the response of the markets already jittery over Europe's crisis.

But we begin our coverage with Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: A day after the bailout request he vowed would never come, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told reporters this was his idea all along.

PRIME MINISTER MARIANO RAJOY: (Foreign language spoken)

FRAYER: No one pressured me into this. I pushed for it myself, because I wanted a line of credit, Rajoy said. He refused to call it a bailout. He called it a victory instead. But most Spaniards don't buy that. In a poll published Sunday, 78 percent of respondents said they have little or no faith in Rajoy and his ruling conservatives. That's just six months after they won elections in a landslide.

Rajoy has tried to reassure the public this E.U. loan will come with few strings attached and won't affect Spain's deficit. But economists and European Union officials say that's not the case.

JOAQUIN ALMUNIA: (Foreign language spoken)

FRAYER: Of course there will be conditions, said the E.U.'s competition commissioner, a Spaniard named Joaquin Almunia. Whoever gives money never gives it away for free. E.U. and German officials say there will be oversight. The IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank will supervise the restructuring of Spain's banking system.

But because terms of the bailout haven't been made public, nor even finalized, it's their word against Rajoy's. For their part, Spanish leaders point to the tens of billions they've slashed from budgets already this year. Economist Gonzalo Garland at Madrid's IE Business School says it's fair to set conditions for loan repayment, but no more.

GONZALO GARLAND: It makes sense that you tell me what I have to do in terms of when that money has to be returned or what interest has to be paid, what are the typical financial requirements that make sense. But do not tell me when I have to raise the retirement age or what is the level of the pensions because that's not what we need right now.

FRAYER: What Spain does need is immediate help for its banks, weighed down by real estate debt. But Spain is also struggling with its deficit, which was three times E.U. limits last year. An E.U. loan will make that even worse, says Megan Greene with Roubini Global Economics.

MEGAN GREENE: It will certainly be foisted onto the state's balance sheet, so we will see Spain's public debt rise. And then that will in turn cause the deficit to rise as the government struggles to pay the interest cost for a higher debt burden.

FRAYER: Not exactly a reassuring prospect. The bailout news hit this weekend when many Spaniards were preoccupied with European soccer championships, and trying to escape the heat. At a public pool in downtown Madrid, kids splash unaware as adults discuss the bailout.

DANIEL BLANCO RAMOS: I am unemployed. But in four days I will travel to Australia. So that's not a problem for me.

FRAYER: A 34-year-old IT specialist named Daniel Blanco Ramos is having one last swim before giving up on Spain. He and his friends laugh at how Spanish politicians won't use the word bailout.

RAMOS: They are trying to use better words. But the fact is, this is a real rescue.

FRAYER: I asked him if he plans to come back to Spain someday.

RAMOS: Maybe one or two years later, we can start to fix our problems, but I think this is not the end.

FRAYER: For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.