With Spaniards poised to go to the polls to elect a new government on Sunday, EL PAÍS interviewed Popular Party (PP) candidate Mariano Rajoy, who holds a significant lead in projected voter intention over his Socialist counterpart, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. Admitting that he has not yet informed his future economy minister of his or her appointment if the PP wins, Rajoy nonetheless stated that "we are very clear on what needs to be done" to drag Spain out of the crisis.
The PP leader expressed his desire to meet the European budget deficit target of 4.4 percent for 2012, calling the current administration's estimate of 2.3 percent growth "not credible."
"We have to make a growth forecast and from there assess income and expenses. But I insist; Spain has to send a message that the subject of public deficit is being taken seriously."
Rajoy reiterated his party's intention to leave pensions unscathed, not to raise taxes and to avoid co-payment for medical care, but gave few assurances over other possible cutbacks. "Maybe we will have to carry out fewer public works and give priority to finishing the ones in progress. We will have to abolish many regional bodies. We have to do many things and make cuts wherever possible." Asked if Spain has an excess of civil servants, Rajoy said "in some sectors maybe we don't need as many as we have," adding that the five-percent salary cut imposed last year would not be lifted "at this time."
During the campaign, Rubalcaba has proposed asking Brussels for a two-year stay on deficit-reduction targets: "I think it is a bad message, especially when the current government is saying the opposite. The economy minister intends to maintain the six-percent target for this year and is pressuring the regions not to exceed 1.3 percent. I like her message more than the candidate's."
With union backlashes against cuts and education and healthcare strikes across Spain, does the PP leader foresee more general strikes? "I hope there are none. I think that if the decisions that need to be made are explained, it would be unjust to carry out strikes. But if they do, logically that is their right."
Extolling stronger export ties with Latin America, Rajoy also expressed his desire for democracy in Cuba. On the home front, the PP candidate, who enjoys the odd cigar, said that the Anti-Tobacco Law could be changed, although he stressed it was not "a priority."
On same-sex marriages, Rajoy said the Constitutional Court would have the final word on the current law but the abortion legislation contained "two or three things" that could be changed.