“Solidarity is one thing—but it’s quite a different thing to have solidarity and not ask for anything in return,” said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in a radio interview on June 30, when asked about the position the European Union should adopt toward Greece. The PM was widely ridiculed for his obvious misunderstanding of the notion of solidarity—inadvertently revealing one of the EU’s design flaws. But his attitude illustrates how national politics are shaping Europe’s approach to the Greek crisis.
Spain has been among the countries in the European Union most fiercely opposed to debt relief for Greece. This has less to do with Spain’s share in Greek loans than with its governing party, the conservative Partido Popular (PP), which has tied its fate to the EU’s politics of austerity. Luis de Guindos, Spain’s economy minister, tried to compete with Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the current Dutch Socialist leader of the Eurogroup, for his position in what was billed as a “political showdown” between Europe’s center-left and center-right blocs. (De Guindos lost his bid on July 13, and Dijsselbloem was reelected.) For Rajoy, de Guindos, and others in the PP, any concession to Syriza, the far-left party now governing Greece, suggests that there may be an alternative to the EU’s current approach, translating into an electoral boost for Spain’s own anti-austerity party, Podemos. With Podemos expected to mount a stiff challenge to the PP in the general elections later this year, the PP has had to balance its fierce opposition to Syriza, Podemos’s ally, with its desire that Greece stay in the eurozone.
For the PP, Greek despair serves as an electoral scare tactic. The PP and its allies in right-wing newspapers such as ABC and El Mundo have branded as a “nightmare” the urgent measures (i.e., bank closures, limited ATM withdrawals) the Syriza government has been forced to adopt, drawing direct parallels with a potential Podemos government. “Syriza’s policies are no good for Spain, and we shouldn’t risk a corralito,” said PP spokesman Pablo Casado the day after the July 5 referendum in Greece. (Literally “putting up a fence” to prevent a bank run and capital flight, corralito is a pejorative term associated with Argentina’s economic depression in 2001.) “What’s happening in Greece won’t happen in Spain,” Rajoy said a week before that, recurring to one of his favorite platitudes, “because this is a serious country.”
Many on the left, by contrast, have pointed to Greek PM Alexis Tsipras’s “commitment to democracy” as a sign that Greece, not Spain, is the serious country. “I feel a healthy envy toward the Greek government,” said Ada Colau, the leftist mayor of Barcelona, in the days following the referendum: “It has fulfilled its promises…and defended the basic rights of the Greek people.” Podemos, for its part, has since its inception maintained a strong political relationship with Syriza while openly acknowledging the divergent economic situations in each country. (With a gross domestic product of almost $1.4 trillion, Spain’s economy is more than five times Greece’s. And while Spain’s national debt is just below 100 percent of GDP, Greece’s stands at around 175 percent.)