The Guardian and NY Times wonder: “Where's Spain's Law of Transparency?”

From the Spanish newspaper El Mundo | During the last three years, the Spanish government has lashed out against the markets, the speculators, the rating agencies and even against the Anglo-Saxon press because of the ‘distorted image’ it believes they present of Spain and its economy.

Spain’s financial minister and deputy president Elena Salgado, and the Secretary of State for the Economy José Manuel Campa have repeatedly had to travel around Europe, Asia and America on controversial roadshows to convince bankers, hedge funds and investors that the actual Spanish figures are better than what is perceived from the outside, that our financial sector is not as bad as they say and that growth is just around the corner.
Still, most have little trust in Spain. Why? It isn’t bias or conspiracy, it is because “Spain is already a country like any other” to which, unlike in the past, “the same criteria is applied, as with Germany, France or England.” This is at least what Gilles Tremlett and Raphael Minder think. They are correspondents in Spain for the British newspaper The Guardian and the weekly The Economist, and The New York Times, respectively. Both journalists met on Thursday at the Salamanca Social Science Festival, at an event moderated by Luis Garicano, who is Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and Fedea, the institution organising the event.

A few years ago, the international press praised the Spanish miracle and sang the economic virtues of our country. But now, critics are emerging from everywhere, from the City of London to Germany’s Economics Ministry to the pages of the so-called journalistic financial bibles. What was it that marked the turning point? Well, it was The Miracle, precisely.

“Make no mistake. The world is suspicious of Spain. It believes that the miracle was no such thing,” said Garicano. Tremlett added: “The lack of trust has to do with the medium, not short term. When will Spain be able to grow significantly again? The forecasts are grim.”

THE MAIN PROBLEM

Both journalists noted that the main problems for Spain now are the lack of investment and development (not just the government’s but also in the corporative sector), education and the lack of transparency. Therefore, they warned, “Spain does not need to improve its public relations in the world, but the fundamentals. It’s the content, not the presentation.” And since we are at it, a tip: “the Spanish should be less sensitive about what others say. In other countries, they don’t care what we Anglo-Saxons think.” “In Spain there is too much sensitivity,” said Minder.

Raphael Minder said that contradictory messages or data that go against international indicators, such as those presented by Salgado help foster the increasing mistrust. “I understand that time is short before the elections, but people do not understand why the problems are not clearly identified.”

This is a criticism is valid when addressed to the government, but to businesses, banks and the Bank of Spain, too. “Here, all actors are on the defensive. The attempt to avoid a Lehman has been so strong that we are going to have to go through a long convalescence. Everything that has been done has been done on the defensive, in communication as in actions taken.”

In addition, the correspondents as much as Garicano himself criticised that in Spain there is no Law of Transparency “as Zapatero had promised. Lack of information breeds distrust. Here, information, especially public information, the one that regional governments or ministries operate with, is handled as if it were the minister’s private information. As if it were something he or she can use to sell, or not, a certain image. And of course, when you see that the data are used to sell, you immediately distrust.”

They gave as an example the real estate data: hard to find, compare and, depending on the source consulted, considerably different. As for the future of our country, both were relatively optimistic. Noting that while the debt (and especially regional) is “important, it does not seem vital” and they assured that “Spain has the capacity and reserves to resist” the crisis. But it needs its politicians to speak clearly. “The Spanish society has not yet realised what is coming.”

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