surinenglish

The euro zone

Forget about it

It has long been the Popular Party's (PP) mantra that it is the only competent steward of the Spanish economy, having overseen the country's steady recovery from recession over the last few years (or so it claims). But since last October, that message has been drowned out by the events in Catalonia and the PP's handling of them.

The latest opinion poll, carried out by Metroscopia and published in El País last weekend, showed that the PP would take 23.3% of the vote if a general election were held today, as compared to 33% in 2016. The poll also revealed that almost half of the voters who voted for the PP in 2016 would no longer do so. Clearly, the PP's message of economic competence has been forgotten amidst the Catalonia crisis, for which Rajoy's party is being severely punished.

It's no wonder, then, the embattled prime minister wants to shift national focus back to the supposed economic success story, away from his handling of the Catalan separatists. And this is precisely what Rajoy urged his supporters to do at meeting of the PP's national committee this week.

The problem with the party's economic argument, though, is that it is not powerful enough to divert attention away from the Catalonia issue. At its heart are two misleading claims: one, that the PP is creating around half a million new jobs a year, thus lowering Spain's problematic unemployment rate; and two, that the Spanish economy has been growing steadily during the PP's time in power.

Since it came to office in 2011, Rajoy's party has indeed been meeting its self-imposed target of creating 500,000 new jobs a year. But this superficially-impressive feat is qualified by a mighty caveat: most of those positions are temporary contracts, some only for a few days' employment. Figures released by the Employment Ministry last summer indicated that the number of Spanish workers who sign more than ten employment contracts every year - almost one a month - increased from 150,000 in 2012 to 270,000 in 2016.

As for the second aspect of the PP's economic case, it is also true that Spain's GDP has been growing during its time in office. But the indications are that it has expanded regardless of the country's political situation, buoyed up by external factors such as record visitor levels. Rajoy's claim that the PP can take all the credit for Spain's growth looks even more dubious when you think back to 2016: during that tumultuous year, the country lacked a government for ten months, but the economy carried on as normal.

If I were Rajoy's PR adviser (and I hope he has one), I'd tell him to come up with something else if he wants people to forget about the Catalonia issue.