In the face of political and trade union objections, as well as certain technical difficulties regarding particular proposed measures, Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has decided to postpone the cabinet vote on the first part of his austerity plans until the end of next week (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). According to official sources, the delay has been caused by the proposal to cut the salaries of civil servants (funcionarios)—more time is needed to study the possible repercussions of the announced five percent pay cut. Zapatero has found himself under pressure from foreign politicians this week, notably US President Barack Obama and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, to come up with a fast scheme to ensure that the Spanish economy survives the current crisis and doesn’t cause negative knock-on effects to the economies of other nations. While he has opted for a plan that sees significant cuts in public spending, there are various voices within his party, including Manuel Chavez, president of Andalucia, who believe that the best way forward is by increasing taxes on higher earners. However, vice-president and economic minister Elena Salgado has said that such a tax rise is not currently on the cards.
In light of the proposed pay cuts put forward by Zapatero, the main Spanish trade unions have called for strike action on June 2nd (read article in Castilian here, El Periodico). Representatives from CCOO and UGT met yesterday with the Spanish prime minister over his plan to reduce civil servant salaries on average by five percent, but were dissatisfied by the outcome of the meeting and as such are hoping to organise widespread stoppage action at the start of next month. The secretary generals of the two unions, Cándido Méndez (UGT) and Ignacio Fernández Toxo (CCOO), made clear to Zapatero their “absolute disagreement” with the salary reductions, which not only contravene pay agreements that are currently in force, but, they say, have been suggested only to keep the international money markets happy under whose pressure the austerity plan has been drawn up, although it doesn’t seem to have halted speculation over Spain’s economy by financial traders. The situation was described as a “loss in the quality of democracy.” They called on Zapatero to instead focus on fiscal measures, such as the re-introduction of taxes that have disappeared or a higher rate of VAT on luxury items. However, the Spanish prime minister proved himself reluctant to consider such moves. Meetings will take place today between the representatives of different unions to decide what action to take, and whether there is enough support to call for a general strike—sources say that no possibility has been discarded.
Controversy continues to dog the public vote taking place this week over the future of the Avinguda Diagonal, and opposition groups in the city council have started to demand that heads roll in the light of the various problems that voters have experienced (read article in Catalan here, Avui). While some within the council now fear that the public vote will give victory to Option C (ie. rejecting both of the two designs put forward, a rambla or a boulevard), there is also growing awareness of the storm that has been created by technological failings in the voting process. Yesterday, the leader of the opposition party CiU, Xavier Trias, had to try eight times (at two different voting points) before he was able to successfully place his vote, while earlier in the week, the head of the PP municipal group, Alberto Fernandez Díaz found that someone had already used his vote, by pretending to be the politician. Barcelona mayor Jordi Hereu, who admitted on Wednesday that he had not actually been able to vote on Monday morning as he originally claimed, has ordered a report into the problems suffered, to include the assumption of responsibility for these issues. However, this hasn’t satisfied either CiU or the party ERC, who have called for resignations at the highest level, while Fernandez Diaz suggested that the PP could challenge the results of the vote, once they are known on Monday. Up to yesterday, 93,882 people had placed their vote (6.7 percent of those who are eligible)—voting finishes on Sunday at 10am.
Also in the news: Spanish prices rose 1.5 percent in last year (read full article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia); Cesc Fabregas says his dream is to return to Barça, if he were to leave Arsenal (read full article in Castilian here, El Periodico); Judge Baltasar Garzon’s immediate future to be decided today: suspension or temporary transfer to the International Criminal Court in The Hague (read full article in Castilian here, El Periodico).