The president of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta, has made a surprise about-turn over his support for the candidates in the running to replace him when he steps down in June (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). Although the official campaign for the presidential elections isn’t due to start until May, six pre-candidates have already come forward to announce their interest in running for the post, several of them current members of the Barça board. Until yesterday, Laporta had thrown his weight behind current vice-president of the sports club, Alfons Godall, as a ‘continuation’ candidate. However, during discussions at the weekend, Godall told Laporta that he was unsure of the success of his campaign and as such wanted to make an agreement with another pre-candidate Ferran Soriano, the president of Spanair, whose opinion poll showings are significantly better than Godall’s, news that Laporta did not take positively. The Barça president met yesterday with part of the FC Barcelona board where he tried to convince other members to lead a ‘continuation’ campaign, but none of them wished to take up the baton. Therefore, Laporta has now openly come out in support of another pre-candidate from the current Barça board, Jaume Ferrer, despite the fact that Laporta had in the past tried to convince Ferrer not to run in the campaign as it would mean splitting the vote of those who want a continuation of Laporta’s regime. Godall is said to have stepped down from participating in the elections, but it remains to be seen whether those who would have supported him, both amongst the public and the FC Barcelona board, will change their support to Jaume Ferrer.
Catalan president José Montilla has called on Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to give him support to help him win the Generalitat elections in the autumn and keep the Socialists in power here as well as in the central Spanish government (read article in Castilian here, El Periodico). Socialists, both in Barcelona and Madrid, are concerned about continuing opinion polls that give victory in the forthcoming Catalan vote to the current opposition party, Convergencia i Unió. To help the cause of presenting Montilla as a serious, problem-solving candidate, the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) wants the central government to lend a hand—as such, the subject was discussed yesterday during a lunch of the two men at the Palau de Pedralbes, when Montilla took the opportunity to remind Zapatero of some of the commitments he’s made to Catalunya in the past that are still pending: more power for the Generalitat to be able to better control the electricity company Endesa; a greater ability to be able to create new companies, as laid down in the law of economic sustainability; a guarantee that the summer rise in VAT (see below) will provide funds to be directed to maintaining the €420 benefit for the long-term unemployed; and that the current pact regarding education being negotiated at a national level doesn’t ignore the needs of the autonomous communities. Other, ongoing issues that were discussed included the problem of local infrastructure and the proposed ‘Euromediterranean’ train route.
Meanwhile, speaking during an interview broadcast on Catalan television last night, Zapatero defended his government’s decision to increase the rate of VAT from June (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). He said it was an acceptable “sacrifice” to increase the standard rate of VAT (IVA in Castilian) from 16 to 18 percent, as it would guarantee a certain level of protection for society and maintain economic growth. Zapatero added that even with the increase, Spain would be the country in Europe with the third lowest VAT rate, where the average is 20 percent. “If we want to reduce the deficit and if we want to keep investing in places like this [speaking of the particle accelerator centre, Sincrotón, that Zapatero came to inaugurate and where the interview was recorded]…we have to make sacrifices and this is one of the ones we have to make,” said the Spanish prime minister. During the interview, Zapatero also spoke about the vote pending at the Constitutional Court on the Catalan statute, which he said he believed was constitutional, gave his support to José Montilla to continue as president of the Generalitat, and said he was confident that the Catalan government would deal firmly with the electricity company Endesa following the problems caused by snow earlier this month.
Also in the news: Spanish government reaches agreement with autonomous communities about budget cuts (read full article in Catalan here, Avui); Man who killed two female police officers sentenced to 94 years in prison (read full article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia); Catalan chefs to give classes at Harvard university (read full article in Castilian here, El Periodico).