surinenglish

THE EURO ZONE

A difficult summer

One of the biggest challenges faced by Pedro Sánchez's government over the coming weeks is restarting Spain's hospitality sector - the engine of the Spanish economy, accounting for 12% of the country's GDP - while also preventing another surge in cases of Covid-19.

French prime minister Edouard Philippe summarised those dual and apparently conflicting responsibilities this week, when he said: "We must protect the French without immobilising the country to the point where it collapses." Sánchez has to perform the same balancing act, taking the brakes off a stalled economy while ensuring that the pandemic doesn't spike again, prompting a second period of quarantine and economic stagnation.

France and Spain are, respectively, the first and second most-visited tourist destinations in the world, so the functioning of their hospitality industries over the next few months will be key to post-lockdown recovery. Sánchez's announcement this week of a four-phase de-escalation period is the first sign that his government has a plan in place to get things back to normal, especially for the country's bars, restaurants and hotels.

The de-escalation measures will almost certainly be criticised by the conservative PP and righ-wing Vox; but neither party has, so far, indicated how they would have handled the crisis if they'd been in charge. If we've been reminded of one political lesson since lockdown began, it's that it's easier to sit on the sidelines of power and criticise than it is to make crucial decisions in a crisis situation (although such criticism is an essential part of any healthy, self-examining democracy).

Among the prime minister's severest critics are Catalan secessionists, who have wasted no time in exploiting the pandemic to try and further their divisive project. Catalonia is the most-visited part of Spain and accounts for around a fifth of the country's GDP, so it will be vital in driving the recovery of tourism this summer. But no matter how quickly the region returns to a "new normal", its premier Quim Torra will insist that he could have done a better job without Madrid's input.

That Catalonia would thrive as a republic, released from a meddling central government, is one of the independence movement's favourite lines. Yet Torra will have a tough job portraying Madrid as the baddie in this context, except to his most committed supporters.

An independent Catalonia would not have been able to ask for assistance from Spain's military in dealing with the pandemic, which was precisely the request made by its pro-independence government at the beginning of April. As a difficult summer gets under way, might further support from Madrid help Catalonia kick-start its stalled tourism sector? If so, Torra will be the last to admit it.