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June 14, 2012

Lawmakers to grill Rajoy on Spain bailout


German Chancellor Angela Merkel supports European banking regulations, but rejects a region-wide banking union. (UPI/Andrew Harrer/Pool)

MADRID (UPI) -- Spanish lawmakers planned to grill Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Spain's problematic $125 billion bank bailout Wednesday, an opposition spokeswoman said.

The questioning would come after German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the first time called the eurozone crisis a "disaster."

"There is a public outcry for the prime minister to testify in Parliament, for the government to clearly and forcefully explain [the bailout's conditions]," Socialist parliamentary spokeswoman Soraya Rodriguez was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying.

Rajoy has said the loans, which would add an estimated 20 percent to Spain's national debt, were the responsibility of the struggling banks, not Spain itself. But he has refused to debate the bailout terms in Parliament until after a European Union leaders summit in Brussels June 28-29.

Parliament is normally in recess in July.

Based on that, opposition lawmakers planned to make the most of a weekly question-and-answer session Wednesday to press for new details, said Rodriguez, whose Socialist Workers' Party is Spain's largest opposition party.

The session's format, permitting about 2 minutes for an answer, would likely limit what lawmakers could learn, she acknowledged.

Rajoy was roundly criticized by political opponents and commentators for delegating the Saturday announcement of the bailout deal to Minister of Economy and Competitiveness Luis de Guindos.

Many commentators accused Rajoy of going into hiding.

Rajoy held a hastily called news conference Sunday in what was widely viewed as a response to the criticism.

"This year is going to be a bad one," he said, blaming the previous government of socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero for creating the mess.

Rajoy critics pointed out the failing Spanish banks that prompted the bailout have strong ties to Rajoy and to the current ruling conservative People's Party.

Rajoy -- who had long rejected the bailout as unnecessary -- flew to Poland after his news conference to watch Spain play Italy to a 1-1 tie in the European soccer championship. Before leaving, he publicly lamented he couldn't also be in Paris to watch Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal play in the French Open.

Rajoy's handling of the bailout announcement and the day-after news conference were "a major error of judgment," Francisco Longo, professor of governance and public affairs at ESADE Business School in Barcelona, told the Journal.

A Rajoy spokeswoman denied his Sunday news conference was in response to criticism. She said the government planned all along for de Guindos to disclose the deal's technical details and then for Rajoy to deliver his own remarks, the Journal said.

Spain's borrowing costs hit a eurozone high of 6.72 percent for 10-year government bonds Tuesday, up from 6.52 percent Monday, amid evaporating investor confidence the bank bailout won't solve Spain's worsening broader problems.

Spain is the eurozone's fourth-largest economy.

"The crisis is deteriorating at an ever-increasing pace," Citigroup Inc. Senior Strategist Mark Schofield told the Financial Times. "Investors are increasingly pricing in either of the two tail risks -- full eurozone break-up or fiscal union."

Merkel said Tuesday she supported European banking regulation, but said she would not support a region-wide banking union.

Her government says such a plan would likely burden Germany with joint liability for other countries' debts.

"Germany -- and I can say this for the whole country -- is prepared to do more on integration, but we cannot get involved in things which I am convinced will lead to an even bigger disaster than the situation we are in today," she said.

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