FC Barcelona will meet arch rivals Real Madrid in the final of this year's Copa del Rey; it will be the first time the two clubs have met in the final of the Spanish cup since 1990 (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). Following last night's semi-finals in which Barça beat Almeria 0-3 (0-8 on aggregate) and Madrid won against Seville 2-0 (3-0 on aggregate), the two teams will meet on April 20th, four days after they play together at the Bernabéu in the Madrid leg of this season's clásico. Although no one at Barça is willing to talk about a triple this early on (Cup, League and Champions), they are currently top of the Spanish league with a seven-point advantage over Madrid and have passed the knock-out round of the Champions League. This position is the same as the one they found themselves in 2009, the year they went on to win a total of six titles, including the triple for the first time in their 110-year history. Although Barça's football team has become used to winning trophies since Pep Guardiola took over as coach in the summer of 2008, last night all the players and staff celebrated each goal like madmen and hugged each other gleefully when the final whistle was blown. Guardiola was able to rest some of his key players including Victor Valdés, Xavi and Messi, thanks to the 5-0 scoreline brought from last week's leg at the Camp Nou.
Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel today in a meeting where he will explain the agreement reached with unions and employers' associations that he hopes will help bring confidence back to the Spanish economy (read article in Castilian here, El Periodico). After weeks of negotiations, the pact was signed yesterday at the Palacio de la Moncloa, Zapatero also hopes that the agreement will help him regain the political initiative lost during the current economic crisis and ensure social calm during the final stretch of the present parliament before general elections that are due to take place next year. Financial markets responded favourably to the agreement with the cost of Spanish debt falling to 184 basic points compared to the 300 or so it reached last November. In addition, the Madrid stock exchange, the IBEX 35, continued its trend of recovery that started in January, in particular from the 20th when negotiations regarding pension reforms intensified, the government announced new moves to shore up the banks and news regarding the scale of the public deficit was released.
January saw the second worst rise in unemployment in Catalunya since records began (read article in Catalan here, Avui). The number of people out of work grew by 26,950 last month, foiling predictions that recovery was on the way and that the worst level of unemployment had been reached. This means there are now 589,623 people looking for work here, the largest monthly rise for two years. In Spain as a whole, unemployment figures rose by 130,930, the biggest rise since February 2009. The Generalitat's minister of Employment, Esther Sànchez, admitted that the figures were worrying, but said that there was still an overall trend towards improvement in the past months. The government forecasts that this year will be one of transition and that recovery will not begin until 2012. Both the Catalan and Spanish employment markets were hit last month by traditional seasonal issues, as many people saw temporary Christmas contracts come to an end, particularly in service industries, while the construction sector was also a significant source of job losses.