Leading article: Ireland's Yes drowned out by Spain

 

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The decisive Yes on the eurozone fiscal compact is meaningful enough for Ireland itself, signalling both a clear-eyed assessment of the country's debts and a commitment to its place in the single currency. It means even more for the rest of Europe, however. As the first to vote on the treaty, Ireland has set the tone.

The referendum is, then, another inch towards the closer union that is the only way to resolve the euro crisis. But each step forward is technically complex, constitutionally uncharted and politically fraught. And it is no longer just Greece that threatens to blow the whole precarious exercise off course. Spain, long a source of concern, is in danger of fulfilling the direst prognostications.

Madrid has not helped itself. The govern-ment's confused – and confusing – plan to recapitalise the struggling Bankia only added to jitters in the financial markets. Now, with bond yields soaring, questions are being asked about Spain's ability to bear the €100bn-plus of bad debts rocking the banking system and capital is fleeing the country at a frightening rate. A bailout from either Europe or the IMF is looking unavoidable, despite the repeated denials.

The Spanish Prime Minister has much to answer for. But his eurozone partners must also play their part. Spain's problems are more alarming than those of Greece because of the size of the economy. But they are primarily a banking crisis, rather than a question of government solvency, and are therefore easier to solve. Spain's deficit is well above euro-area targets, but since it rose so high only due to the financial crisis, it is up to Brussels and Berlin to relax the deficit-reduction deadline. A Europe-wide rescue scheme for struggling banks should also be expedited. And Mariano Rajoy must set out the full extent of Spain's banking losses, with a plan for putting the sector back on track.

Such measures are not easy, but they are possible. And without them, there may not be time for the fiscal union nodded through in Ireland to take effect.

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