European Council President Van Rompuy meets with the Catalan President Artur Mas
The President of the Catalan Government detailed his plan to Herman Van Rompuy to balance the Catalan budget and reduce the public deficit. Artur Mas stressed the importance of the Mediterranean Railway Corridor for the European economy and he also outlined the benefits of an effective Union for the Mediterranean, in this moment in particular. Mas was joined by Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, his electoral ally and leader of the Catalan Christian Democrats. They also met with Competition’s Commissioner, Joaquín Almunia.
Brussels (ACN).- The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy met on Monday afternoon with the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas in Brussels. The main issue both leaders discussed is the balancing of the Catalan Government\u2019s budget and the austerity and stability plan designed to reduce the Catalan public deficit. Artur Mas explained the main guidelines of his Government\u2019s plan and budget, which reduces public expenditure by 10%. Mas insisted that if the Spanish Government paid the revenues it owes to Catalonia and showed some institutional loyalty, the Catalan Government\u2019s deficit would not be 2.66% but 1.3%, as expected by the international markets. The Catalan President also stressed the strategic importance of the so-called Mediterranean Railway Corridor for the entire European economy. This international width rail for freight would link Northern and Central Europe with the South of the Iberian Peninsula, passing through some of the main sea ports of the Mediterranean, such as Barcelona, Tarragona and València. Finally, the third main topic was the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), which has its Secretariat\u2019s headquarters in Barcelona. Mas insisted in profiting from the momentum the North of Africa is experiencing and strengthening cooperation between both sides of the Mediterranean Sea. He exposed the idea of transferring Euro-Mediterranean Policy and tools to the UfM, including cooperation with Southern Mediterranean countries. The Catalan President was joined by his electoral coalition Secretary General, Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, who is the leader of the Catalan Christian Democrats. The Catalan Secretary for External Relations, Senén Florensa, and the Catalan Delegate for the European Union Joan Prat were also present. After the meeting with Van Rompuy, the Catalan President met with the European Commissioner for Competition, Joaquin Almunia.
Artur Mas already met with Durao Barroso three months ago
This is the second time since Artur Mas took office, five months ago, that he has met with the European Institution's leaders. On March 3rd, he met with the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Durao Barroso. The current Catalan President has met twice with European Institution leaders in three months. The former Catalan President José Montilla never did so in four years. Artur Mas has good relations with EU leaders thanks to Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, who is well connected with EU Christian Democrat leaders. José Montilla had a particularly bad relationship with Barroso due to past frictions when he was Spanish Minister for Industry and they clashed over some industrial mergers. The two other previous Catalan Presidents since the return of democratic elections, Jordi Pujol and Pasqual Maragall, had met with EU leaders on several occasions.
Duran i Lleida, a key person in the Catalan Government\u2019s projection beyond the Catalan borders
The Catalan President was joined by his electoral coalition Secretary General, Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, who is the leader of the Catalan Christian Democrats. Duran i Lleida is a key person in Catalan politics and in the sphere of the new Catalan Government in particular. He is the Spokesperson for the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition \u2018Convergència i Unió\u2019 (CiU) at the Spanish Parliament. He also chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Spanish Parliament and he was Member of the European Parliament when Spain joined the EU. Duran i Lleida is thus CiU\u2019s number two and he is its strong man in Madrid, in charge of negotiating with Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero and the Spanish Socialist Party. These negotiation make him also a key person regarding Spain\u2019s stability and governance, as on several occasions he has saved Zapatero\u2019s Government.
Duran i Lleida is a key person in the negotiations related to revenues and transfers, as well regarding Catalan External Affairs Policy. Duran i Lleida has an extensive list of contacts in Europe, which include Christian-Democrat leaders such as Van Rompuy or German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Conservative Durao Barroso calls him \u201Chis Catalan cousin\u201D, as Duran and Durao have the same roots. These good connections have opened Brussels' doors to Mas, to talk directly with European Institution leaders about strategic issues in particularly sensitive times.
The Catalan Government\u2019s austerity plan
The most important issue discussed betwen Van Rompuy and Mas was the situation of the Catalan finances, the new budget and the public deficit. The Catalan Government\u2019s budget for 2011 reduces public expenditure by 10%. However, it cannot go beyond without affecting \u201Cthe bases of the Welfare State\u201D. The Autonomies are responsible for about 40% of the public expenditure in Spain and they are in charge of the Welfare State's basic services (public healthcare, education and social services).
The budget sets a public deficit of 2.66%, when in 2010 it was 3.86%. However, the 2.66% deficit might be further reduced if the Spanish Government finally paid due revenues, legally owned by the Catalan Government but that Madrid refuses to pay this year. Artur Mas told Van Rompuy that if these revenues are finally paid, Catalonia would have a deficit close to the 1.3% objective.
Mas wanted to reassure Van Rompuy, as in Brussels circles and international financial markets, Spanish Autonomous Communities have been declared the scapegoat for Spain\u2019s public deficit. However, some Autonomies such as Catalonia, are undergoing a severe and drastic budget adjustment, which is not fully backed by the Spanish Government. Mas put an emphasis on this point, as the Catalan effort to reduce expenditure \u201Ccould set an example for other Autonomous Community Governments\u201D.