The new president of the Generalitat, Artur Mas, has said that the budget deficit inherited by his government is bigger than expected (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Mas said that 2011 would be a "difficult" year for the local economy and that the administration was having to deal with a deficit two or three times bigger than expected, with current estimates putting it at some €7.8 billion. The president went on to say that his aim was for the Generalitat to have overcome the "delicate" economic situation by 2013, with the next two years seeing a tough policy of cuts; he has already announced cuts in the administration's management structure of some 23 percent. He also outlined yesterday the five phases of his austerity plan designed to tackle the financial problems of the Catalan government, which he intends to have completed by the start of summer. The central Spanish government has made it obligatory for all the autonomous governments to reduce their deficits by 1.3 percent, but Mas said that it would be necessary for the Spanish administration to help the local politicians to achieve this goal.
Children across Catalunya and Spain will be eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Three Kings from the Orient today, with many going with their parents this evening to watch Kings' Day processions in their towns (read article in Castilian here, El Periodico). Barcelona is one of many Catalan cities and towns that will welcome the kings with a parade of floats, musicians, actors and dancers; as usual, the Three Kings (Balthasar, Melchior and Caspar) will be met by the city's mayor Jordi Hereu at Moll de Fusta in the port as they arrive by boat around 5pm; Hereu will present them with bread and salt, as well as the keys to the city, symbolic of the welcome that Barcelona wants to extend to these special visitors. This will be followed by a parade of some five kilometres, starting at 6.30pm in Avinguda Marquès de l'Argentera and due to finish at 9.20pm in front of the Magic Fountains in Montjuïc; during the event, sweets will be thrown to those watching from those taking part in the procession - more than 18,000 kilos of sweets are expected to be distributed. There will also be smaller parades in many of the city's neighbourhoods - click here for details.
The coach of FC Barcelona, Pep Guardiola, has warned that the team could be eliminated from the Copa del Rey competition today, as they face Athletic Club de Bilbao (read article in Catalan here, Avui). Barça are playing in Bilbao at the San Mamés stadium (the so-called Cathedral of Spanish football) in the second leg of their confrontation with Bilbao following a disappointing 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou just before Christmas. Talking in a press conference yesterday ahead of tonight's 10pm match, Guardiola admitted that the team had to face the possibility of returning to Barcelona having lost the first 'final' of the season. "You have to understand that we are Barça, a team that is much admired for our way of playing, but that we are capable of losing matches, knock-outs and having to go home." He went on to say that Athletic are a tough opponent - "if we don't control the game, they will create goal-scoring opportunities." Guardiola described it as an all or nothing match, although he has not failed against the Basque team since taking over at Barça.