“We Have Won the Right to Hope,” Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy in DC (1/15)     Print Email

By Michael Mosettig, Former PBS Newshour Producer

The travels of Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have demonstrated anew that in politics, timing is everything.

In a week in which French President Hollande's major economic press conference was overshadowed by the fallout from his extra-curricular activities and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's State of the State speech was lost in the George Washington Bridge scandal, Rajoy came to Washington for a three-day visit   with the wind of some better economic news at his back and allowing him to proclaim to President Obama and other audiences that his beleaguered country had turned a corner.

The Spanish unemployment rate is over 25 percent, nearly double that for the country's emigrating youth and its bond ratings just above junk level, but still Rajoy was able to tell audiences, including an enthusiastic one at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that his country's economy is "back on track."

At the White House with Mr. Obama and again at the Chamber, Rajoy coupled his message of a nascent economic recovery with a strong pitch for a successful conclusion of the U.S./European Union Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP). Spain’s support of the trade puts Europe’s fifth largest economy on the side of Germany and Britain as major backers of TTIP.

At the Chamber, Rajoy's forceful talk was a sermon to the choir. Chamber president Thomas Donohue, one of Washington's most influential power brokers, introduced the Prime Minister to a luncheon crowd of lobbyists and diplomats with a reminder of the $20 billion in merchandise trade between the countries and the $100 billion plus in investment in each other's economies. To which he added the poetic touch that among the flags hanging in the Chamber hall was a replica of the one of Castille that Christopher Columbus carried on his journey to the New World.

Rajoy, who faces an election in two years and is coping with a secession movement in Catalonia, said the policies of his government have made possible what he described as "Spain's economic transformation."  He insisted his government made the right decisions tackling public debt, which is 92 percent of GDP, foreign debt, inflation and reforming the financial system. The result he said, was economic growth, though still less than one percent, an external surplus, expanding exports and the lowest inflation rate in the Eurozone

"We have so much more to do," the Prime Minister said. And then he added, "We have won the right to have hope."