School-children in various parts of Catalunya start the region's first winter half-term holiday today, although next year, pupils here won't have a week-long break during term-time (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). The plan for a week of holiday at this time of year, which will be staggered around the community so that different provinces take their holiday at different times, was introduced by the last Catalan government after they brought forward the start date of the school year in September. Today, just over 400,000 pupils are starting their break (called setmana blanca here, or 'white week', as many children will go skiing), which is about 37 percent of all students and mainly affects those in Girona and central Catalunya; Barcelona and Tarragona schools, amongst others, have decided to take their half-term next week. The new department of Education (Ensenyament) has already announced that from the next school year, while it will keep in place the earlier start date for schools, there will be no week-long holiday to compensate it, but instead there will be extra single days off spread throughout the year.
Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is on an official visit to the Persian Gulf with the aim of increasing energy supplies from the area (read article in Castilian here, El Periodico). His two-day trip has begun today in Qatar, which is currently the third supplier of gas to Spain after Algeria and Nigeria but supplies very little petrol, according to sources from the Spanish government. The instability caused by the recent revolutions in various Arab states and the subsequent increase in crude petrol prices has led Zapatero to try to widen the number of oil suppliers to Spain. There have been intensive diplomatic contacts with Qatar in recent years, in particular since the latter joined the Alianza de las Civilizaciones (Alliance of Civilisations) in 2004, an initiative of Zapatero. The Spanish prime minister is due to meet various Qatari dignitaries today, including the female sheikh, the emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani and the nation's prime minister.
Catalunya is the 25th richest region in the European Union today and its spending power supercedes the EU average by 21 percent, according to the latest figures released by Brussels (read article in Catalan here, Avui). While Catalans have less money to spend than the Basques and Madrileños, they have the equivalent spending power as those people living in the south-east of England, the second biggest economic area in Britain after London. However, if Catalunya was an independent state, and its GDP (PIB or producto interior bruto) was compared with the current 27 EU members (rather than on a regional level), it would rank as the seventh richest state in Europe, with only Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, Denmark and Sweden ranking ahead of it. In contrast, Spain currently ranks 11th in the data released by Brussels and 12 of its 17 autonomous communities have a GDP below the EU average.