Spanish bailout deal to be sealed amid protests
Eurozone finance ministers on Friday (20 July) are set to iron out the final details of bailout of up to €100bn for the Spanish banking sector, just as tens of thousands Spaniards took to the streets in protest against fresh spending cuts.
In a conference call set to start at 12.00 Brussels time, the 17 ministers are expected to sign off a memorandum of understanding with Spain, spelling out the conditions of the loan capped at €100 billion.
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The final amount still to be determined after a comprehensive audit of 14 Spanish banks, making up 90 percent of its banking sector, is carried out in September. A first tranche of up to €30 billion will be made available by the end of July to reassure markets that these are not empty promises.
A draft agreement that emerged ahead of a vote in the German Bundestag on Thursday approving the deal caused a bit of an uproar in Spain, with El Pais newspaper accusing the government of "hiding" the documents from public scrutiny.
The 70-page long document is expected to be broadly adopted as is on Friday and then signed by the Spanish government. It mostly relates to how banks sitting on bad loans will be assessed, recapitalised and possibly wound down, how the national banking supervisors have to be strengthened and transparency of banks balance sheets increased.
But it also refers to "regular and closely" monitoring of other economic reforms aimed at reducing the budget deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2014.
Tax policies are also to be monitored, along with labour market reforms, with member states set to "review on a regular basis the economic policies implemented by Spain," in line with binding recommendations by the EU commission.
The government last week announced fresh public sector wage cuts and VAT hikes amounting to €65 billion, which on Thursday saw tens of thousand of people take to the streets all across the country. Riot police fired rubber bullets on protesters in Madrid, who set garbage bins on fire and threw explosive cocktails as tensions rose.
Unemployment is at 24 percent in Spain, while more than half of the country's youngsters are out of a job.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy defended the cuts as part of the bailout deal needed to rescue the bleeding banks. But markets seem unimpressed. At a debt auction on Thursday, Spain managed to borrow almost €3 billion from the markets, but at borrowing costs above seven percent - a threshold considered bailout territory.
According to the draft memorandum, in money that is unused for the banking rescue could be re-allocated to another bailout programme - for instance buying Spanish bonds. But for that to happen, a new deal would have to be approved by all eurozone countries and with likely even stricter conditions attached.
"The up to €100 billion, which the eurozone has undertaken to provide to Spanish banks is to do just that, it is only for that purpose and not for any other," an EU commission spokesman said Thursday.