By Tim Montgomerie
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The overall rate of unemployment in Spain is 21%. It's 45% for young people. Both add up to a deadly recipe for political unrest.
The first pointers to that unrest are now clear.
One pointer came yesterday when the ruling socialist government was hammered in municipal and regional elections. Prime Minister Zapatero's austerity measures may have been praised by international observers but many of the trade unions and public sector interests have walked away from his party in protest. The opposition Popular Party triumphed in all of the thirteen regional governments being contested, winning 38% of the overall vote – against just 28% for the socialists. The PP of Mariano Rajoy (pictured) ousted the socialists from Castilla-La Mancha for the first time ever and also the left-wing strongholds of Barcelona and Seville. The conservatives have promised, as first steps, to audit the books of these regional governments. These audits are expected to show that the fiscal position of the Spanish state is much worse than has been so far declared.
The most vivid sign of the explosive nature of Spanish politics can be seen in Puerta del Sol, in the centre of Madrid. Thousands of young Spaniards turned the huge square into a tent city about ten days ago.
The so far peaceful protests have caught the imagination of Spain and, via social media, copy cat protests have spread across the whole nation with 50,000 or more young people camping out in town squares, protesting at what are the worst unemployment rates in the €urozone. Although most of the protestors simply want work they have become attached to radical student movements that seek deep cuts in military spending, the closure of nuclear power plants and freedom for digital pirates.
The PP would – if elected in next year's general election – be likely to continue both Zapatero's austerity measures and his support for Spain's continued membership of the single currency.