The art of politics is about squaring circles. In the euro crisis, this means pushing ahead with painful but necessary reforms while hanging onto power.
In Spain, where I spent part of last week, these circles are getting harder to square. Mariano Rajoy isn’t at any immediate risk of losing power. His 10-month old government has also taken important steps to reform the economy – cleaning up banks, liberalising the labour market and reining in government spending.
But the recession is deepening, the prime minister is a poor communicator and his political capital has plummeted. Madrid will also find it harder than thought to access help from its euro zone partners.
GDP will shrink by 1.5 percent this year and another 1.8 percent next year, according to Funcas, the Spanish savings bank association. That is a result of both a severe fiscal squeeze and private-sector deleveraging. An austerity spiral is in operation. As the International Monetary Fund argued last week, so-called fiscal multipliers across the world are bigger than forecasters had previously estimated.
The severity of the downturn means the government seems destined to miss its deficit reduction targets again. This year, Madrid economists think it will end up with a deficit of around 7 percent of gross domestic product, against a revised target of 6.3 percent. Next year, the deficit could be in the 5-6 percent range rather than the new, 4.5 percent target.