Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy inched closer on Friday to asking for an EU bailout for his country, but said he needed first to know what conditions would be attached and what form the rescue would take.
His comments, at his first post-cabinet meeting news conference since taking office last December, came a day after the European Central Bank signaled it was preparing to buy Spanish and Italian bonds but only after EU bailout funds were triggered and countries had asked for help, reports Reuters.
A source said separately that Spain would not decide whether to apply for several weeks.
Buying bonds and providing aid would all be designed to bring down what have been prohibitive borrowing costs in the indebted countries.
Rajoy said he was ready to do what is best for Spain, going far further than he did on Thursday when, during a press appearance with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, Rajoy three times declined to say whether he would seek the aid.
"I will do, as I always do, what I believe to be in the best interest of the Spanish people," Rajoy said on Friday.
"We still don't know what these measures are," he said, reference to a comment by ECB President Mario Draghi that the bank was examining non-conventional measures to defend the euro.
"What I want to know is what these measures are, what they mean and whether they are appropriate and, in light of the circumstances, we will make a decision, but I have still not taken any decision," he said.
A source familiar with Rajoy's thinking confirmed this possibility was actively looked at and that Rajoy was ready to bear the political cost of a request.
Spain has already asked for aid for its stricken banks.
"People have said the main reason why he is not seeking help is because he is too proud. But this is not true. He requested an assistance for the banks because it was the adequate instrument to solve a specific problem. There is no opposition to do it again," the source said.
An aid request would entail negotiating a memorandum of understanding with other euro zone countries and would likely bear strong conditionality, something Rajoy wants to discuss in detail before moving forward.
Although Spain already complies with stringent EU and International Monetary Fund demands to reform its economy and has announced a package of 65 billion euros ($79 billion) of tax hikes and spending cuts in July, the government fears it could now be asked to reform further the pension system.
The measure is the last campaign pledge Rajoy has not been forced to break so far and could undermine even more the support for the government after it already fell sharply in recent weeks as hundreds of thousands of Spaniards took the streets to protests against austerity steps.
A euro zone official told Reuters last week Spain had for the first time conceded at a meeting between Economy Minister Luis de Guindos and his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble it might need a full bailout worth 300 billion euros if its borrowing costs remain unsustainably high.