The governing party in Spain, the centre-right Partido Popular, (PP), has been roasting over a media fire for going on six months now. Almost every day there is a new snap, crackle and pop to do with alleged illicit slush funding from 1990 to 2009. Yesterday’s friends are today’s liabilities.
Enter Luis Bárcenas, former PP treasurer for 20 years. On the last day of January, the newspaper El Pais put him on the front page.
It said notes he made showed party leaders wrongfully received cash from companies for more than a decade – the prime minister himself more than 25,000 euros per year, (though this allegedly started in pre-euro peseta days).
The PP swore up and down it was a tissue of lies – and so did Bárcenas, at first. The paper’s scoop was based on photocopies of what was said to be a parallel, unofficial accounting record. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy proved his love of hyperbole and denied any scandalous activities.
“I’m not going to need more than two words,” he said: “It’s false.” Then he went on: “I have never, ever received or handed out black money, either in the party or anywhere else. Never. I’ll say it again: it’s false.”
Rajoy never used the ex-treasurer’s name in the months that followed when the media peppered him with questions – he also refused to speak on the matter in parliament. He repeated his denials abroad, in Berlin in February.
“The things I’ve been accused of are false, so I’m repeating today what I already said last Saturday: I still want the same things and I have the same enthusiasm, the same strength, the same courage and the same determination as I had when I became head of the government.”
It sounded like the key word there was the ‘same’. And yet, a few days ago, on 9 July, even the centre-right newspaper El Mundo queered the pitch; it published what it said were original pages out of Bárcenas’ notebooks. By now he was in prison and bail was denied as the investigation dug deeper.
Rajoy, when he was asked about it while visiting a car plant a few days ago preferred to talk about production, but certainly not the corruption scandal.
“In Spain… what happens is that sometimes we have a certain tendency to talk about the things that aren’t the best and sometimes we should be talking about the things that are important.”
…“Things that are important…” In January Rajoy had said he did not remember when he had spoken to his trusted Bárcenas last; now the papers published records purporting to show they were still phone texting each other on 6 March. Bárcenas, in jail, had by now changed his story and said the incriminating papers were just the tip of the iceberg.
To better understand what exactly is behind the corruption scandal that has all Spain talking, euronews’ Vincenç Batalla asked communications advisor and journalist Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubi, who writes for daily newspaper El Pais to speak to us live from Barcelona.
“The head of the government Mariano Rajoy continues to deny the accusations of his Popular Party’s former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, concerning illegal party funding. He continues his strategy of silence, but faced with the latest revelations in the press and the opposition’s demands he resign, is Rajoy still in a fit state to govern?”
Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubi, Spanish Political Analyst
“We don’t know yet. What is certain, and we heard Rajoy say this during his press conference with the Polish prime minister, is that he doesn’t want any threat to political stability to come from these daily revelations, and now a court case. All Rajoy said was to reaffirm his commitment that now his only ambitions are to reform Spain along the guidelines agreed with his EU partners, and maintain political stability.”
“Could he resign in the coming days or weeks?”
“What we saw at today’s press conference confirms that Rajoy believes the real strength of a leader is to resist. But every day we are getting new information about the scandal; vital information is coming out in court that is devaluing the few explanations we have been given by the government until now, making them obsolete. This is sapping the confidence and credibility of the prime minister, and fuels the feeling he’s not leading from the front.”
“What would be the consequences of a vote of censure brought by the opposition, knowing that the Popular Party has an absolute majority? Could it break the party in power? Can anyone replace Rajoy?”
“The immediate consequence of a censure motion would be to force Rajoy to explain himself to parliament. This is something he continues to deny. That’s the first advantage of any censure motion; the PM must explain himself. The second would be to see what the alternative to Rajoy would be, and that alternative could come from the opposition, although it is unlikely they could muster enough votes. Or the alternative could come from within the Popular party, which could nominate his replacement.”
“After unemployment, corruption is the second-most important source of worry for Spanish voters. If this affair produces more and more shocks, how much more can public opinion take before it snaps?”
“Spanish society has had its fill of corruption stories. The limits of public tolerance have been breached. So I think Rajoy is wrong when he insists time will heal these wounds, and resolve the problems. He’s sure the political tide will fall after, just as surely as it’s risen recently. But he’ll still be left with corruption, possible legal action, and incriminating judicial evidence to deal with.
Above all, his personal image has been hit. The PM has the position of the highest political responsibility in Spain, and whatever effects them effects the government, and effects our international image.”