Friday 2nd September may well go down in history in Spain as a mostly unified bipartisan congress voted amend the constitution to limit the amount of Spain’s public debt and avoid a repeat of the current financial crisis.
Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and leader of the opposition Mariano Rajoy, respectively leaders of the two largest parties between them had enough votes to ensure congress would pass the budget deficit amendment, though all of the smaller nationalist and fringe parties abstained or were not present during the vote. The bill passed congress 316 to 5 with 29 abstentions.
The amendments make two important provisions for future Spanish and regional governments with respect to financial afairs, with national and community governments now expected to balance their annual budgets, and a debt ceiling imposed on national and community level governments of 0.26% of GDP and 0.14% of GDP respectively.
With Friday’s vote, Spain becomes only the second state in the European Union to constitutionally limit public debt, and at a combined 0.4% for national and community governments is well below the current EU limit of 3% of GDP. The reforms will come into effect in 2020, with reviews of the percentage amounts possible in 2015 and 2018.
Whilst the vote never seemed to be in doubt, the lack of support from the smaller parties is a worrying sign that PSOE and PP as the nation’s two largest parties are not getting the support of smaller parties and begs the question what will happen after the next general election as the two majors line up for the possibly inevitable coalition government that is a hallmark of Spanish politics.
Numerous political parties, trades unions, and the M15 protest movement called for a referendum on the amendment, with the intention of voting against both the constitutional change and the other austerity measures the government has introduced at the insistance of the IMF and European Central Bank (ECB). Major trade unions with millions of members, nationalist parties with sizable bases in Catalonia and the Basque countries, as well as the enormous pulling power of the M15 movement now look set to challenge the two main parties in the coming months.
Assuring the constitutional amandment passes Spain’s senate will be the next task of Zapatero and Rajoy, though they are not expected to face much dissension within their party ranks. The more serious challenge comes from the UPyD party whose leadership have filed notice they intend to appeal the reform in the Constitutional Court on the grounds the measure was rushed through without proper consultation.
Spain’s national deficit of 9.2% of GDP in 2010 is now looking like might drop to 6% by the end of the 2011 financial year, and both the PSOE and PP have committed to bringing Spain’s national debt down to the EU mandated limit of 3% by 2013. These measures are intended to avoid a repeat of a Greek style bailout for Spain but with Italian austerity measures looking doubtful Spain may yet be forced to call in the IMF.