AUSTERITY BUDGET

Trouble brews with regions as PP left “isolated” over state budget

Finance Minister hails majority muscle and calls nationalists “navel gazers”

The ruling Popular Party (PP) is facing a possible wrestling match with some of the country’s regions over the budget cuts for this year, and has made it known it will make use of its absolute majority in Congress and its control of most regional administrations to push through with its reform and austerity agenda.

The draft state budget includes savings of 27 billion euros to trim the budget deficit from 8.5 percent of GDP to 5.3 percent this year, but what has riled some regional nationalist parties most is the imposition of cutbacks worth 10 billion euros in health and education, areas which are run by the regions.

In a tirade that stood out for its vehemence, Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro laid into the nationalist parties, accusing them of going “against the tide of global political ideas” and of having an “isolated and partial vision” of reality. “You have to stop navel gazing,” he said.

The budget passed its first major hurdle in Congress on Wednesday after lawmakers rejected motions to have it thrown back in its entirety to the government. But the PP had to rely on its absolute majority to do so as the main opposition Socialists and the nationalist groups all voted against the government.

What you call isolation is an absolute majority. How many other governments can do this?"

The motions filed by a number of different groups in the opposition were rejected by 182 votes to 156.

The PP had been hoping to secure the support of the center-right Catalan nationalist group CiU, with whom it is in a pact in Catalonia, but abandoned all hope of being able to do so before the vote. The CiU bristled at a budget that focused exclusively on austerity and lacked initiatives to promote economic growth, and also cut investment spending in Catalonia by 45 percent.

“It leads us down a dead-end street,” CiU spokesman in Congress, Josep Antoni Lleida, said during the debate.

Montoro indicated the PP was prepared to use the majority muscle to get its way. “What you call isolation is an absolute majority,” Montoro told reporters after the vote. “How many governments in Europe can act in isolation? The government in Spain can because it has the support based on the vote of 10.8 million people,” he added.

Along the same lines, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said: “I believe at this moment that it is important to highlight that the government has the capacity to take decisions which are good for Spain [although] the effects won’t materialize in the short term,” he said.

Montoro said the PP was open to “dialogue” with other political groups to reach “agreements” but only those that ensure the deficit target is reached. He reiterated his threat to take over the reins of the finances of any region that fails to toe the line on the deficit.

The regional governments of Andalusia and the Basque Country have already announced they will not increase the number of pupils per classroom as called for in the reform of the education system. They have also rejected Madrid’s imposition of a 50-percent hike in university tuition fees.

The premier of Galicia, Alberto Núñez Feijoo, who is a member of the PP, on Wednesday also said he would not impose the educational cutbacks as the region’s budget situation gave it enough margin not to have to do so.

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