Spanish economy heads for meltdown

Spanish discontent as soup kitchens spring up

Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards are facing ruin as bankruptcies and unemployment rise

Faced with losing his home if he cannot find €6,000 (£5,350) by the end of this week, Javier Martínez has resorted to desperate measures: the unemployed father-of-four is selling his own flat and throwing in another, free.

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The three-bedroom apartment in Tarazona, near Zaragoza in eastern Spain, is on the market for only €57,000. The former construction project manager is including a one-bedroom flat that he had been letting in an attempt to entice a buyer.

“I need to find the cash by May 15 or I may be declared bankrupt. I must provide for my children,” Mr Martínez said. He is one of hundreds of thousands of Spaniards facing ruin as Spain’s economy heads for meltdown.

The number of Spaniards unable to pay their debts has risen by 26 per cent to 2.7million in 2009, compared with the first four months of last year. During the same period 232,000 companies joined the list of bad debtors, a 67 per cent rise, according to AsNef-Equifax, a Spanish credit agency.

Bankruptcies are up 44 per cent in the first quarter this year against the final quarter of 2008, with the worst-hit sectors being services and construction.

Unemployment is running at 17.4 per cent, the highest in Europe, with more than four million on the dole. The European Union predicts that this figure will rise to 20 per cent by next year. Some Spaniards have to accept soup-kitchen meals to feed their families.

Spain, after a decade of continuous growth, is now the sick man of Europe – and discontent is growing.

As 40,000 people took to the streets across the country for May Day demonstrations, Ignacio Fernández Toxo, leader of the CCOO union, threatened a general strike if the Government accepted demands from business to make it cheaper for companies to hire and fire workers.

Last week, unemployed protesters tried to storm the Madrid regional assembly, while jobless pickets closed a shipyard in the Basque Country in a protest at “cheap” Romanian and Portuguese workers – an echo of similar demonstrations in Britain against foreign workers in February.

Spain’s Socialist Government, aware that its popularity is falling before European parliamentary elections next month, argues that unemployment is reaching a plateau, pointing out that the number out of work in April rose by 39,478, the smallest increase in nine months.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister, has attempted to blunt the impact of the recession with a €33 billion stimulus. It is being spent partly on public works projects, to give temporary work to cut dole queues – but some dismiss these as “sticking plaster” jobs that do not address the problems at the heart of the Spanish economy.

Others defend them, saying that they keep many homeowners from defaulting on mortgages.

Graham Keeley in Madrid
May 11, 2009

Source: The Times

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