European leaders meet in Brussels today amid growing fears that Spain, Europe’s fifth-largest economy, is preparing to ask for a bailout which would dwarf the €110bn (£90bn) rescue plan for Greece.
The Spanish government yesterday dismissed reports that it was already in discussions with the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and the US Treasury for a rescue package worth up to €250bn.
Officials in Madrid, Brussels and Paris were forced to deny that a Spanish bailout – which would take the European debt and euro crisis into a potentially dangerous new phase – was on the Brussels summit agenda.
“Spain is a country that is solvent, solid and strong, with international credibility,” said its Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The European Commission spokesman said: “I can firmly deny [that a Spanish rescue is under discussion]. I can say that that story is rubbish.” (Sure!)
Brussels diplomats have been at pains to send out feel-good signals ahead of a summit in which Europe’s leaders are supposed to take the first steps towards more disciplined and co-ordinated, control of national finances. Those reforms are meant to restore confidence in the euro and underpin the €750m EU and IMF safety-net, created last month for euroland countries that lose the confidence of the financial markets.
However, it is proving hard to shake off persistent market fears about Spain, which, if it needed a lifeline, would swallow up a large part of the emergency fund. Worryingly for the EU, the doubts about Spain – whether real or driven by speculation – are eerily similar to the gradual seeping away of confidence that sent Greece into a financial death spiral in March and April. The Spanish government’s cost of borrowing hit a new record yesterday. The interest rate gap, or spread, between 10-year Spanish bonds and their German equivalents, rose by more than 0.10 of a point to 2.23 percentage points.
A senior Spanish banker, Francisco Gonzalez, chairman of the BBVA financial services group, confirmed that foreign private banks were now refusing to provide liquidity to their Spanish counterparts. “Financial markets have withdrawn their confidence in our country,” he said. “For most Spanish companies and entities, international capital markets are closed.”
As a result, the European Central Bank is said to have provided record amounts of liquidity to Spanish banks in recent days. The closure of bank-to-bank credit to Spanish institutions recalls to some market commentators the ripple of crisis through the global financial system after the fall of Lehman Brothers in the Autumn of 2008.
Read moreSpain: The New Crisis In Euroland