Last week’s tug of war between the Greek government and the so-called troika—the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—over a bailout package to rescue Greece’s failing economy, drew attention to Spain, another Southern European economy that, in recent years, has struggled with a mountain of debt, declining GDP, and sky-high unemployment, all of which make it a perceived threat to the stability of the eurozone. Yet Spanish politicians were quick to reassure the world that the Greek drama would not be playing in Spain.
In an interview with the television network “Telecinco,” soon after word got out from Athens that a panel of austerity reforms had been defeated in a referendum, conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy avoided any talk of contagion of the Greek situation, and he showed little sympathy for the Greeks. Instead, he embraced the tough stance taken by Greece’s international creditors, especially Germany. He noted that Greek assistance would not be possible “without responsibility and reforms on Athens’ part,” and added that: “What matters is that Greece knows we are willing to help, but that this will require that in exchange that reforms needed for growth and job creation are carried out.”
For his part, Pablo Iglesias, the head of Podemos (We Can), Spain’s fiery left-wing party, which is often thought of as a corollary to Syriza, Greece’s ruling party, and is Syriza’s closest ally in Europe, was full of praise for the referendum. Speaking to the radio network “Cadena SER,” Iglesias exalted the outcome as “a triumph for democracy.” But he was quick to distance his party and Spain from the situation in Greece. “We have a great friendship with Syriza, but Spain is not Greece.” He added that: “We are an economy with much more weight in the Eurozone, we are a country with a stronger administration and with a better economic situation. The circumstances are different and I think that it makes no sense to draw parallels.”
Spanish politicians are so confident in their claims that “Spain is not Greece” because of unambiguous economic indicators that signal that the brutal Spanish economic crisis that began in 2009 and that brought up unwelcome comparisons to Greece in the international media, is over. According to the Bank of Spain, Spain officially exited recession in the first quarter of 2013 after nine consecutive quarters of economic contraction; and in 2015, Spain is expected to see 3.3 percent growth, one of the highest rates in Europe. According to a recent IMF report, if Spain is able to sustain this pace through next year, the Spanish economy will have made up for any ground lost since 2009. By contrast, Greece is well into its sixth straight year of economic contraction, and the end is nowhere in sight.