Spain: Between bailout and contestation

This is the first of a few pieces I’ll be translating over the next few days on Spain’s ‘bailout’. Written by Isidro López of the activist research group Observatorio Metropolitano, it was published on Periódico Diagonal on Saturday, in advance of this weekend’s ‘denouement’. It recognises something that the dominant political discourse in both Ireland and Spain (and probably the other countries) seeks to obscure: under the emerging European dispensation, the governments are mere intermediaries. Thus the notion that Enda Kenny (or Mariano Rajoy) is a coward or a useless representative of Irish (or Spanish) sovereign interests, for instance, is based on the idea that the National Sovereign Humpty can be put back together again in the context of better bailouts, less strenuous conditions of neoliberal governance and political parties who will fight your corner for a greater piece of the ever-dwindling pie (or pastel).

The main point of a ‘bailout’, in which the population of a country is lumbered with the burden of debts accumulated by private banks, is to place economic policy beyond politics. But we should also bear in mind an important secondary effect, which is that it enables members of the political class, who would otherwise be clearly on the side of dismantling public services, stripping away welfare state provisions and privatising everything in sight, to present themselves as tribunes for the people and protectors of the common good, as heard in the mating call of “where are we going to get the money from to fund our public services”?

In reality, the National Sovereign Humpty can’t be put back together again; and it falls to the populations of the affected countries to focus on making sure the Hayekian Humpty has a great fall instead.

 

The intervention has already happened

The financial debacle of the past week has been accompanied by permanent rumours of something along the lines of a bailout or intervention on the part of the European Union. On the whole, these rumours have in mind a bailout like those of Ireland, Greece or Portugal, a single political and economic move that guarantees the control of national economies by private agents. However, this model is unviable for Spain, given the very high costs it would entail, and, instead of this what we will see is a ‘staged’ or ‘drip-by-drip’ bailout in which partial bailout measures -right now priority will be given to those related to the threefold multiplication of the deficit that the bailout of Bankia would generate- will take place in correspondence to privatisation and social cutback measures of increasing intensity.

In this sense, the outlines of these policies have been designed and applied for numerous months now, and as such, an ‘intervention’ understood as a swift historical scission is little more than a ghostly presence. However, this way of conceptualising the bailout as a ‘red line’ is not politically innocent. It is a defence of the national sovereignty that the government supposedly enjoys, and indirectly, a way of trying to recompose the bipartite model that everyone must strive to save in order to avoid the ‘tragic’ fact of the bailout.

To assume that the bailout mechanisms are already in operation, however, de-activates this fear of the ‘terrifying intervention’ with interesting political consequences for the future. For example, the European Union has been formed via a double political articulation in which a European political sphere, removed from any democratic control, guarantees the application of the grand economic principles that structure the interests of the financial elites. Beneath this scale of government we find the national governments, subject to electoral processes on which the political costs of the crisis are dumped whilst the European arena continues with its political programme of bolstering the interests of finance.

An intensification of the political mechanisms linked to the staged bailout could bring about a fall of government and would render visible the European control over the apparatuses of State. This would, in turn, cause the partial fall of the double articulation of Europe-National states through a direct confrontation between Europe and the populations of those countries at the centre of the financial mechanism of accumulation through sovereign debt.

This is precisely what the European project has sought to avoid since it became a neoliberal project inspired by the idea held by Hayek about the European economic space: the continental and transnational elites should not have to bow to any form of democratic will. Syriza, in Greece, for example, has understood that this is the level at which the struggle for the well-being of the European politicians must take place, and it has transformed the demand for an exit from the Euro into a demand for the right to democratic non-payment of debt within the Euro, setting the scene for battle at the heart of the European neoliberal project.

In Spain, the 15M movement has the opportunity, without leaving behind any of its proposals, to move the political stage in this direction, by contributing to the elimination of a Government that is but a mere intermediary, by questioning borders that only serve as containers for the costs of the crisis, and by setting out the battle for non-payment of the debt on a continental scale.

 

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