22nd May 2019

Ongoing protests rock Spain ahead of vote

  • Madrid rally. Almost half of 16 to 29 year olds in Spain do not have a job (Photo: Ametxa)

A wave of ongoing protests has shaken Spain's political establishment ahead of upcoming regional and municipal polls, with the country's electoral commission opting to ban further street action this weekend.

Concerns are also mounting that forecast losses for the ruling Socialist party could expose the true nature of the Spain's regional debt, after a government change in Catalonia five months ago revealed the region's budget deficit to be twice as big as previously estimated.

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The number of protesters camped out in Madrid's Puerta del Sol central square continued to swell on Thursday (19 May), with participants condemning the domination of Spain's two main political parties.

Anger at Spain's high level of youth unemployment - roughly 45 percent for 16 to 29 year-olds - and opposition to the recent wave of government austerity measures were also dominant themes among participants calling for change.

Initiated on Sunday by a group calling themselves 'Real Democracy Now', the protests have morphed into a larger 'May 15 movement', with street action also planned for Brussels this Friday evening.

Spain's electoral commission reacted by narrowly voting to ban further protests planned for this Saturday, a day before Spaniards go to the polls in thirteen regions accounting for 60 percent of the economy.

Forecasts predict a crushing defeat for the ruling Socialist party, amid perceptions that the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been slow to react to the financial crisis.

Traditional allies of the centre-left leader have also expressed their disenchantment, following a series of government-imposed spending cuts and labour reforms amid investor concerns over the health of Spain's economy.

Madrid has repeatedly stressed it will not need an international bail-out like Greece, Ireland and Portugal, amid doubts over whether the EU's arsenal of firefighting funds are big enough to prop up the eurozone's fourth largest economy.

Many economists say a change of government in Spanish regions and municipalities this weekend is likely to expose a pile of 'hidden debt' however, adding billions of euros to current official debt figures.

"Investors are worried about the regions, given that there has a been precedent in Spain and other countries of debt not being recorded properly," Luigi Speranza, a BNP Paribas economist, told the Wall Street Journal.

ECB warning

Trouble in other eurozone 'periphery' states saw the ECB issue a warning to Greece this week, amid increasingly speculation that Athens may be forced to restructure its debt.

The Frankfurt-based central bank threatened to end its supply of emergency funding to Greek banks if Athens decided to alter the repayment terms on Greek sovereign bonds.

"A sovereign debt restructuring would undermine the eligibility of Greek government bonds," ECB chief economist Juergen Stark said on Wednesday. "A continuation of liquidity provisions would be impossible."

The ECB currently allows Greek banks to borrow funds using Greek sovereign bonds as collateral, despite their 'junk' status which would normally disqualify them.

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