Concern over European debts shifts to Spain

The World

Story from PRI’s The World. Listen to the above audio for a complete report.

As Spain’s economy has unraveled, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has dug himself a deeper and deeper hole.

A growing number of Spaniards say that because the government has not taken decisive action, like cutting spending and making it easier to hire and fire workers, Spain lacks competitiveness. And that makes putting the breaks on mounting sovereign debt impossible.

Bond markets punished Spain this week by demanding nearly seven percent interest on 10-year bonds. Seven percent is considered a country’s breaking point.

Spaniards, mostly young Spaniards, have been protesting since last spring. They also support labor reforms, although not the kind most economists have in mind.

In a plaza in Madrid, a young man complained about a lack of jobs, and the exploitation of unpaid or low-paid interns.

Spanish companies and universities use hundreds of thousands of interns, often college graduates looking for experience and a foot in the door. But they say their feet are being stepped on.

Octavio Granado is Spain’s Social Security chief. He told Spanish radio recently that during this crisis employers have grown too used to calling poorly paid, over-exploited workers “interns.”

Using interns is cheaper. And, that’s good for companies. But former intern and doctoral student Ester Artells said it traps young people in jobs with no future.

“You get a temporary contract for your doctorate, a temporary contract for your post doc work, then another and another. And you never get a real job,” Artells said.

Artells works in France now, in Marseilles. She’s a post-doc research scientist. She said she’s paid well there, and, unlike at home in Spain, jobs abound.

Despite their shortcomings, internships in Spain are still sought after, because the likely alternative is no job at all. The man likely to be Spain’s next Prime Minister is Mariano Rojoy of the conservative Popular Party. He’s promising big reforms to get young people working again.

“The first thing we have to do is reform the constitution to set a ceiling on spending at all levels of government so that no one spends what they don’t have,” Rojoy said. “It’s time to tighten our belts.”

Belt tightening will inevitably lead to more cuts in public sector services, such as healthcare and education and in salaries.

None of that will be popular. But Spanish voters seems to fear contagion from Greece and Italy more.

Polls show Rajoy’s popular party has a big lead over the ruling Socialists going into Sunday’s elections.


PRI’s “The World” is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. “The World” is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More about The World.

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