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A bad way of doing things

The government has yet to define its budget policy, and seeks no support from the opposition

The government does not yet know the deficit-reduction objective it must include in the already long-delayed state budget for the current year. It has announced with a great fanfare of publicity the balance for 2011 (8.51 percent of GDP, against the six percent announced by the previous government), and has taken care to blame its predecessor for this significant gap — both in the accounts which are the direct responsibility of the government, and in those of the regional governments.

The direct and unequivocal language in apportioning blame has been far different from the airy vagueness used in speaking of the guidelines to be followed in public revenue and spending, or in explaining whether the EU’s objective, that of 4.4 percent, will be the one finally accepted.

In an exercise hardly consistent with democratic standards of transparency, Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro avoided specifying whether his government is asking Brussels for a flexibilization of the fulfillment of this objective. He has not acknowledged that, in a context of sharp recession, high rates of unemployment and severe credit restrictions, it is impossible to reduce the deficit to 4.4 percent of GDP in a single year. It is highly probable that the decisions already adopted for raising taxes and those for extending the reduction of expenditure, even if they do not attain the 44 billion euros necessary to fulfill the proposed deficit-reduction objective, will further accentuate the recession in the Spanish economy, making the much-needed reorganization of public and private finances yet more remote.

Nor has the finance minister explained the reasons why the process of preparation of the budget is still dragging on, contrary to the indications of the European Commission, and nourishing the suspicion that the announcement is being put off until the regional elections have been held in Andalusia.

These are bad practices in any case. They are worse still in that budgetary procedures are particularly relevant in the consolidation of democratic political habits. And all the more so, when the budget bill applies to a year that will probably be the most adverse in many years for the Spanish economy.

The erosion of living standards and the additional sacrifices imposed on taxpayers seem to demand that the language of political and economic decision-makers should shun any suggestion of ambiguity or parsimony in the release of relevant information. The conduct of the minister Montoro, playing with words as apparently solemn as empty of content, is not acceptable in a modern democracy. Nor is the absence of a minimal dialogue with the chief party of the opposition, which has already given signs of cooperation for the eventual passage of the financial reform. These are not valid practices at a time when the authorities are about to impose further sacrifices on a large majority of the Spanish public.

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