“Treating the Autonomies like children or bad students is silly and unfair”, warns the Catalan President

Artur Mas, President of the Catalan Government, has reflected on his first year in office. Mas justified the budget cuts his government has made in order to avoid “a collapse” in public services. He also criticised the recent trend of patronising the Autonomous Communities and claiming that they are responsible for Spain’s financial problems. That, he believes, has made them scapegoats. “The Autonomies are a very important part of the State”, “they provide almost all public services to citizens”, he stressed. In addition, Mas insisted that Spain’s debt and deficit is mainly due to the Spanish Government’s overspending over many years and not the fault of the Autonomies or the municipalities.

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

January 3, 2012 11:15 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- After 1 year and 6 days in office, the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, gave a press conference on Tuesday after the weekly Cabinet meeting. Catalonia’s President sent a clear and strong message: portraying the Autonomous Communities as those responsible for Spain’s public debt and deficit is “unfair”, and “treating them as children or bad students is silly”. Mas made it clear that most of Spain’s debt and deficit is because of spending and decisions made by the Spanish Government, and not by the Autonomous Communities. The Autonomies are responsible for providing citizens with “almost all public services” and managing basic welfare. “The deficit and debt crisis is a consequence of the Spanish Government’s overspending over many years”, he said. The Catalan President wanted to react to the recent trend -especially promoted by some circles of Spanish nationalism- of portraying the Autonomies as responsible for Spain’s financial problems. “The Autonomies are a very important part of the State”, and “those attacking the Autonomies should be aware they are attacking the part of the State that offers most basic services to citizens”, such as healthcare, education or public transportation. The Catalan President insisted on the necessity of the austerity plan the Government he chairs has been implementing over the last year in Catalonia. The aim is “to protect the Welfare State”, “guaranteeing Catalonia’s self-government” and “avoiding a collapse”. Mas stated that they “are on the right course”, as they found a Government “drifting” and “about to hit the rocks”, when they took office a year ago.

The President of the Catalan Government wanted to share his thoughts on his first year in office, and how he sees the current situation and the year ahead. According to Artur Mas, thanks to the budget austerity measures the Government he chairs has implemented over the past 12 months, Catalonia has stopped “drifting” and now “are on the right course”. “We will continue facing obstacles and dangers, but now we are on the right course and we are following the European Union’s rules”, he stated. Mas explained that the Catalan Government chose to reduce the 4.22% deficit they found when they took office over two years, and not only over 12 months, in order to avoid “collapsing Catalonia’s Welfare State”. Therefore, Catalonia will go from having a 4.22% deficit in 2010, to a 1.3% deficit in 2012, he said. “This has always been our objective”, he added.

Public spending cuts, the only possible route

The budget cutbacks, which corresponded to 10% in total, “has avoided the collapse of the economy and the Welfare State”, Mas insisted. The Catalan President stressed that the budget cuts “have not been lineal, as some have said”, but that “some Government departments have experienced a 6% reduction and others a 30% drop”. He added that cutting public spending was the only possible option, as “the markets have turned off the tap for credit” and there is proof that “those who chose to spend much more than what they have, have been intervened”, “such as Greece”. Following this line of thought, the Catalan President criticised those that are advocating halting the public spending cuts, as they are “defending a unrealistic utopia or fraud”.

According to Mas, with these austerity measures, Catalonia is now on the right path to achieving the objectives he set at the beginning of his term: a recovery in the economy and fostering job creation; protecting and increasing Catalonia’s self-government; generating trust; and a new fiscal agreement with Spain. However, he explained that 2012 will still be a difficult year, without many jobs being created, especially in the first six months.

Mas will ask Rajoy for a new fiscal agreement with Spain in the second half of 2012

A new fiscal agreement between Catalonia and Spain is Artur Mas’ and his political party’s main priority. It also has broad support among Catalan society, with more than 75% of citizens supporting the changes according to the latest opinion polls. This fiscal agreement would be similar to that of the Basque Country and Navarra by which they collect all the taxes and then transfer money to the Spanish Government for two elements of the economy: to pay for the services provided and investments made by the Spanish Government in their territory, and to pay for inter-regional solidarity with poorer parts of Spain. However, this last part is what the fiscal agreement would have to significantly change from the current situation, where Catalonia gives each year around 8.5% of its annual GDP or some €18 billion to the rest of Spain. With a fairer wealth redistribution model among the Spanish Autonomous Communities, Catalonia would continue contributing to inter-regional solidarity, but would not give as much money, and thus could have more resources to pay for its services. The idea behind is that inter-regional solidarity cannot jeopardise basic public services and investments in Catalonia, as it currently happens.

Mas announced that he would ask the new Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, to listen to Catalonia’s claims and start negotiating a new economic framework with Spain. Mas will put the issue on the table no earlier than the second half of 2012, as he wants to give the new Spanish Government time to “put its house in order”.

If the Spanish Government does not pay what it owes, “the trust between both Governments will be broken”

In addition, the Catalan President sent a warning to the new Spanish Government: “the arrears need to be paid”. If the Spanish Government does not pay the money that it legally owes Catalonia, “there is a risk” that “the trust between both Governments will be broken”. Mas has expressed his hope that the new Spanish Government “will be more serious” and pay what it owes Catalonia.