By Maria Luisa Gonzalez.


Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Sunday he was satisfied with the European aid package of up to 100 billion euros ($125.2 billion) to recapitalize the country's banking sector and he attributed the fact that Spain has been able to avoid European intervention in its economic affairs to the reforms implemented during his five months in office.

Rajoy appeared before the press after Economy Minister Luis de Guindos announced on Saturday that Spain would ask for European financial assistance to shore up its banks' balance sheets.

The Eurogroup - comprised of the countries that share Europe's common currency, the euro - agreed on Saturday to loan Spain up to 100 billion euros to restructure and improve the financial health of its banking sector, which has been severely affected by the bursting of the real estate bubble.

Rajoy said that with the decision "the European project and the future of the euro gained credibility ... (and) Europe was up to the circumstances."

The Spanish premier denied that any other European Union countries had pressured Madrid to ask for the funds - which will be paid out of the European Financial Stability Facility and the European Stability Mechanism - and, on the contrary, he said that it was he who had exerted pressure.

"This (situation) of them giving to one (country) a line of credit of up to 100 billion is not easy to get," he said, emphasizing that the decision was made late by Spain and "should have been made three years ago," an allusion, without naming names, to the former Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Regarding the quantity of financial help that Spain will ultimately request, he said the amount will be firmed up once the two international auditors hired to evaluate the banks' circumstances have presented their conclusions.

Then "we'll know where we are," said the prime minister, who characterized as a positive development the fact that although the International Monetary Fund had calculated that the Spanish banking sector would need some 40 billion euros (about $50 billion), the Eurogroup had set the loan at a maximum of 100 billion euros.

"We're experiencing a very difficult situation, but the government knows what must be done to get out of it and return to growth and to create jobs," Rajoy said.

The Spanish Socialist Workers Party, or PSOE, the main opposition force that governed the country from 2004 until December 2011, meanwhile, emphasized that the European aid to Spain is "a rescue" to all intents and purposes and "bad news" because it worsens the country's image.

At a press conference, PSOE general secretary Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba asked for a parliamentary commission to oversee the process of recapitalizing the banks.

Rajoy on Sunday attended the debut of the Spanish national soccer team at the Eurocup 2012 tourney, a match in which it faced off against Italy and battled to a 1-1 draw.

After the criticism he received for scheduling this trip to Gdansk, Poland, the premier said that he would attend the match because the banking situation had been resolved and because the Spanish team, the current reigning World and European champions, having won the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship (the Eurocup), "deserves it."

Eurozone economy and finance ministers, who met Saturday in a video conference, conditioned the aid on "specific reforms" in the financial sector, including "restructuring plans in line with EU state-aid rules and horizontal structural reforms of the domestic financial sector."

The Eurogroup also said it will continue to "closely" monitor Spain's steps to fulfill its commitments to lower its deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product and apply labor and other structural reforms.

De Guindos, who took part in the video conference, said Saturday the assistance would be different from previous external aid packages for eurozone partners Greece, Portugal and Ireland because it will specifically target the banks and not come with new austerity conditions. EFE