MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish jobless data next week is likely to be encouraging, the country’s prime minister said on Saturday, hours before the start of protests in Madrid and other European cities against austerity imposed to tackle the debt crisis.
Mariano Rajoy told an economic conference the figures would show the economy has begun to turn a corner after slipping in and out of recession for five years.
“I‘m not counting chickens here, however I recommend that you pay attention to unemployment and social security numbers on Tuesday the 4th ... If the patterns we’ve seen are confirmed they will be clearly encouraging,” Rajoy said.
Unemployment in Spain, the euro zone’s fourth-biggest economy, jumped to a record 27.2 percent in April, fuelling a European debate over whether to ditch austerity policies and switch to reviving economic growth.
Tackling joblessness is a major challenge for the euro zone’s leaders. Germany’s Finance Minister warned this week that failure to solve youth unemployment - around a quarter of young people in the bloc cannot find work - could tear Europe apart.
While Spain and twice-bailed-out Greece have fared worst, unemployment hit new highs in both France and Italy in April and 12.2 percent of the currency bloc’s workforce is jobless.
Protests against the “troika” of international lenders that has rescued struggling states but demanded painful spending cuts and tax rises were planned in several countries on Saturday.
Austerity imposed by the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Union is blamed at least in part for the pain felt by families who are deep in debt or have lost their homes after property bubbles burst.
Protests were expected in European capitals including Lisbon, Paris and London on Saturday evening.
Demonstrators brought Germany’s financial centre, Frankfurt, to a standstill on Friday when they cut off access to the ECB and disrupted businesses in a protest against the institutions they blame for the grinding recession in southern Europe.
After cutting interest rates to record lows, the ECB is under pressure to do more to revive the euro zone’s sickly economy, with OECD calling this week for the bank to consider printing money for asset purchases to revive growth.
In Spain, joblessness has grown for seven quarters in a row, leaving 6 million people out of work - more than the population of Denmark and including over half of under 25-year-olds.
Economists have forecast unemployment to rise further this year due to the prolonged contraction, which has depressed consumption and frozen hiring.
Almost one-third of unemployed people have been out of work for more than two years, and two million Spanish households have no one earning a wage.
Rajoy said Spain had left the worst of its crisis behind and unemployment was slowing. He added the centre-right government hoped to lower taxes as soon as possible and would cut income tax by 2015.
“It’s not right to feed people’s fears and be swept along by irrational thinking. We aren’t on the edge of a cliff, this isn’t the eve of the apocalypse. There’s some turbulence but we can bear it and overcome it successfully,” he said.
Rajoy also repeated a call for Europe to do more to move quickly towards the fiscal and political union needed to calm financial markets and guarantee the future of the euro. “We aren’t growing because Europe isn’t growing,” Rajoy said. (Editing by Catherine Evans)