A rough ride
Making the SEAT 600 in 1959
The president of Catalunya, Artus Mas, has his first official meeting with Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero today when the main focus of the discussions will be finances (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). Although this has long been a question of dispute between Madrid and Barcelona, on Friday, Zapatero made a statement indicating that he is willing to hold meaningful talks with Mas on the subject, saying, "The government is predisposed in favour of the Generalitat having a reasonable financing system." Groundwork has been laid ahead of today's meeting both by the Spanish deputy prime minister and economic minister, Elena Salgado, and José Antonio Durán i Lleida, the leader of the governing CiU Catalan party in Madrid and representative of the Generalitat in the Spanish capital. Duran i Lleida hopes that his moves will help create a thaw in the relationship between the two groups over the question of funding for Catalunya, which many in the autonomous region are unhappy with due to the amount of taxes taken by the central government, a significant proportion of which is not returned to Catalunya but redistributed to poorer regions of Spain. In turn, Mas has shown himself willing to talk but wants to be firm on the matter, knowing that many people are watching to see what happens in these discussions, both in Spain and in Europe. His team are keen that agreement be reached and not simply that the Catalan government be given permission to run up debt. Mas takes with him a plan to create financial and economic stability and a promise to reduce Generalitat spending by 10 percent, thus leaving the ball in the court of Zapatero and his government.
The Generalitat's department of transport has started the process of changing permanent speed limit signs on some roads in and out of Barcelona in a move to change the 80 kilometre per hour restriction brought in by the last government (read article in Castilian here, El Periodico). It was planned that by this morning, 102 road signs would have been withdrawn or substituted on the dual carriageway to Castelldefels (C-31) and the Garraf highway (C-32). However, despite the move, the presence of an anticyclon over Barcelona means that the change to the speed limit won't yet come into force; rather, speed limits will be kept at 80 kilometres as a way of easing pollution above the city. The plan is that, going forward, the speed limit on the main roads in and out of Barcelona will be made variable depending on such weather conditions and other circumstances, such as the amount of traffic on any road at any one time. If different from the standard speed limit, it will thus be shown on electronic displays on the roads affected; the transport department has reminded drivers that it is the electronically displayed limit that they must comply with. On the C-31 and C-32, the speed limits henceforward (and always depending on the external circumstances) will vary between 100 and 120 kilometres per hour. The Generalitat plans that by March 1st, 78 kilometres of the roads in and out of Barcelona will have flexible speed limits, while 25 kilometres of road will maintain an 80 kilometre per hour maximum.
The Catalan car industry saw its production level fall by half in just one year, from 2008 to 2009 (read article in Catalan here, Avui). Since the dramatic decline, the industry, one of the most important in the local sector, has managed to maintain its output at around 95,000 vehicles a year, although this figure will take another blow with the news that Yamaha will stop producing 60,000 vehicles here. The Japanese car-maker's plant at Palau-solità de Plegamans is due to be closed down and has focused attention once more on the negative effects being felt in the industry and those connected with it. Insiders have also complained that motorcycle manufacture will be negatively affected by a recent ruling that saw the minimum age for riding the least powerful machines rise from 14 to 15 years. Other problems for the sector have come from changes in the license tax, which has changed three times in the last 18 months causing uncertainty amongst certain multinationals. The motor industry creates around 50,000 jobs in Spain with factories, providers, salespeople and complimentary items.