Rajoy claims that Zapatero should pay the Catalan Government 1.35 billion euros from the Competitiveness Fund
The leader of the Conservative and Spanish Nationalist People’s Party visited the Catalan Parliament today. There, he supported the Catalan Government’s claim and asked Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero to fulfil his legal obligations towards Catalonia and pay the money his Government owes.
Barcelona (ACN).- Mariano Rajoy, the President of the Spanish Nationalist and Conservative People\u2019s Party (PP), and Spain\u2019s opposition leader, visited the Catalan Parliament today for the first time. There he announced that he was supporting the claims of the Catalan Government regarding the money the Spanish Government refuses to pay. In the dispute over the public deficit reduction, the Catalan and the Spanish Government are at loggerheads over which government should cover the costs of the public deficit reduction. The Spanish Government expects Catalonia to cover all the deficit reduction costs on its own by drastically cutting its expenditure by more than 20% and, also, Madrid would reduce the funds to which the Catalan Government is legally entitled. The Catalan Government is asking for a total of 3.3 billion euros, among which 1.35 billion euros comes from the Spanish Competitiveness Fund. Rajoy demanded that Prime Minister Zapatero pay the 1.35 billion euros to which Catalonia is \u201Clegally entitled\u201D. \u201CI want is the Spanish Government to stick to the law, even if I don\u2019t like it\u201D, he stated. Rajoy was in Barcelona to charm Catalan voters and the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition, Convergència i Unió (CiU), which controls the Catalan Government. After the Catalan Executive\u2019s decision yesterday to reduce the Inheritance Tax, the People\u2019s Party is the first possible ally to negotiate with and approve the Catalan budget for 2011. In addition, CiU could be the party supporting the future Spanish Government after the 2012 elections. Catalonia is gaining greater importance for Rajoy with an election next year. It is also the area where the Socialists could lose their largest share of votes, from their current dominant position regarding some of the main city councils (such as Barcelona\u2019s) and the number of Catalan seats in the Spanish Parliament.
Rajoy\u2019s support for the Catalan Government regarding the issue of money owed by the Spanish Executive is somehow strange, as the PP is not particularly fond of devolution. In addition, the PP is in many ways defending a stronger Spanish Government, including an interest in taking back some powers from the Autonomous Governments. However, at the same time, Rajoy\u2019s words do not come as a surprise; the leader of the PP is continuously criticising Prime Minister Zapatero.
The PP\u2019s broader strategy
Rajoy is currently on a tour of Spain as on May 22nd municipal elections will be held in the entire State. In addition, on that day most of the Autonomous Communities will also have parliamentary elections (not all have elections at the same time), and the PP is very likely not only to keep all the governments it already controls but rule most of them. Catalonia already had elections last November and thus the debate is not about the Catalan Parliament and Government. However, Catalonia is still a key battle ground in the municipal elections and, especially, in the next Spanish general elections, expected to take place in March 2012.
The Socialists are likely to lose support in these municipal elections. They could lose Barcelona as well as the control of the Barcelona Provincial Council, which has some powers in areas such as the environment, waste, water, transport and culture. However, these losses would not benefit the PP but instead CiU. What Rajoy really expects is a massive loss of Socialist support in the next Spanish elections, expected in March 2012. In 2008, the Socialists won 25 seats in the Spanish Parliament for Catalonia, compared with only 8 for the PP. The current total difference of seats between the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the PP in the Spanish Parliament is 15 (169 to 154), a smaller difference than the 17 seats separating them in Catalonia. Without Catalonia, Rajoy would have won Zapatero.
The PP has traditionally had bad results in Catalonia, and therefore improving its performance there could be of strategic importance in order to reach or ensure the Spanish Government\u2019s Presidency in 2012. The Catalan President of the People\u2019s Party Alícia Sánchez-Camacho is the main advocate of the PP\u2019s change of attitude towards Catalonia and abandoning the \u201Canti-Catalanism\u201D seen in the past; a change that started before the last Catalan elections. This gave the PP its best results in their history and they passed from being the fourth force to the third within the Catalan Parliament, although they are still a relatively small force in Catalonia. In addition, the PPC ensured its good results with another electoral weapon: the debate on immigration. Some members of the Catalan People\u2019s Party were relating immigration with insecurity, crime, unemployment and the crisis of the Welfare state. Despite strong criticism from other political forces, the PP seems to pursue with this strategy based on the fear, the confrontation and the discrimination.
Rajoy already bought the Catalan People\u2019s Party thesis to quit their \u201Canti-Catalanist\u201D stance, at least in Catalonia. Will he also buy the anti-immigration speech that the PP is delivering in certain towns and neighbourhoods in Catalonia, such as in Badalona?