Spain’s new prime minister sworn in

Conservative Mariano Rajoy names a cabinet of mostly close advisers who will have to re-invigorate a failing economy.

Conservative Mariano Rajoy, right, replaces Socialist party leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero [Reuters]

Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s new prime minister, has named a cabinet composed mostly of close advisers charged with lifting Spain out of its severe economic crisis.

Rajoy, a Conservative, took the oath on the Bible before King Juan Carlos in Madrid on Wednesday. He replaces Socialist party leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who had been in office since 2004.

Under Rajoy, Luis de Guindos, a former Lehman Brothers executive and economy under-secretary, will head the economy ministry. Rajoy’s close adviser Cristobal Montoro was named treasury minister.

De Guindos and Montoro will lead a costly overhaul of Spanish banks, crippled by bad loans to property developers.

They will also try to persuade Spaniards to make sacrifices and accept austerity, even though one in five workers is jobless.
Spain, the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy, is at the centre of the bloc’s debt crisis, on concerns its economy is too big to be bailed out with a Greek-style aid package.

Spending cuts

On Monday, Rajoy promised deep spending cuts totaling €16.5bn ($21.6bn) at all levels of government to trim the deficit.

He also offered tax breaks for companies in a bid to create jobs and stimulate an economy which many analysts estimate has already entered recession.

Rajoy’s centre-right People’s Party (PP) won the parliamentary election by a landslide in November and he kept secret his choices for ministers right up until the last moment.

However, de Guindos and Montoro had been on a long list of possible stewards for the economy after voters angry over unemployment threw out the Socialists who had been in office for more than seven years.

At one point during his campaign Rajoy had signalled he would lean toward independents rather than PP stalwarts, but that was not the way he went in the end.

“It’s not a government of independents at all. What it is, and this is a good thing, if you look at the biographies of the ministers, they’ve all been in government before,” Antonio Barroso, analyst with Eurasia Group consulting firm, said.

Rajoy won a vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday.

Few surprises

Political analysts and economists noted there were few surprises in Rajoy’s choice, underlining his steady, predictable personality.

Rajoy is a former property registrar who has been in politics for years and has been criticised as dull.

Close confidant Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, a 40-year-old who recently returned to Rajoy’s side days after a brief maternity leave, will have the task of delivering tough messages in the triple role of deputy prime minister, minister of the presidency and government spokeswoman.

Other ministers included Fatima Banez, an economist and lawyer and part of Rajoy’s economy team in recent years, to head the labour ministry and lead an overhaul of the rigid labour laws; and Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, who has articulated Rajoy’s approach to other European leaders, as foreign minister.
“A surprise was Garcia-Margallo, who is very versed in European issues, and this means Rajoy wants to make sure that [to send a message about] being part of the euro … it’s a message to Europe,” Fernando Fernandez, economist at IE business school in Madrid, said.

Source: News Agencies