As tens of thousands of people across Spain took to the streets on Sunday to protest against the government’s education and health care spending cuts, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy issued a defiant statement saying he would continue with his reform agenda.
Speaking at the Popular Party’s Madrid regional congress, Rajoy told delegates: “There will be reforms announced this Friday, and every Friday after that, and they will be major reforms.”
He continued: “I understand perfectly. A lot of people cannot understand the decisions that I am taking at the moment. But the problem is the crisis, unemployment, the recession, and disordered public finances. We have to make structural changes and to take root and branch measures.”
The Rajoy government has introduced stinging austerity measures in its first three months in office. Unemployment has continued to rise in Spain, and is at a euro-zone high of 24.4 percent. More than half of Spaniards under 25 years old are jobless. On Friday Rajoy announced a new set of tax hikes to come into effect next year, saying he had “no alternative.”
“I know that tax rises were not part of our electoral program, and we will try to avoid this in the future,” Rajoy said. “We have done our best to make sure that the biggest burden falls to those who are best off.” His comments came after regional premier Esperanza Aguirre was re-elected president of the Madrid division of the PP by 97 percent of the vote. She was the only candidate.
Protestors in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Valencia and many other regional capitals carried banners urging Rajoy not to “mess around with health and education.”
Speaking at a demonstration in Madrid, Cayo Lara, a member of Congress for the United Left party, accused the government of using the financial crisis as an excuse to sell off essential public services to the private sector.
Speaking at a rally of his party’s youth wing in Madrid, Socialist Party leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba described the Prime Minister as “the last of the Mohicans,” accusing him of blindly implementing austerity policies that are pushing Spain’s economy further into depression.
Predicting Socialist François Hollande would win the second round of the French presidential elections, Rubalcaba said that when he did, he would begin measures aimed at restoring growth.
He accused Rajoy of pushing ahead spending cuts “for ideological reasons.”