Madrid premier wants regions to hand back control of education and health

Aguirre says move could save 48 billion euros by cutting public sector jobs

The Popular Party premier of the Madrid region, Esperanza Aguirre, proposed a radical recentralization of Spain by calling for regions to hand back responsibilities for areas such as health and education to the central government as a means of overcoming the country’s budget problems.

“If Spain needs to, education, health and justice should be handed back to the central government, and transport and social services to city halls,” Aguirre.

The PP leader said that by slimming down the regional administrations and getting rid of many public officials, the state could save some 48 billion euros.

The regions were the main culprits for Spain failing to meet its budget deficit target last year of six percent by a full 2.5 percentage points. Health and education account for about 80 percent of the regions’ budgets.

Aguirre was speaking a day after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced plans to slash spending on education and health by 10 billion euros this year to ensure the deficit target is met.

The Madrid premier called on Rajoy to seek the support of the main opposition Socialist Party to forge a “consensus of state” to rewrite how different responsibilities are assigned to different levels of government. Control of education and health were transferred to the regions by the PP government of José María Aznar.

Spain was divided into 17 regions during the return to democracy, largely in response to the historic claims of areas of Spain such as Catalonia and the Basque Country.

Aguirre argued that the regional system had failed to do what it was meant to do, which was to “integrate Basque and Catlan nationalists.”

Rajoy announced the planned cuts in education and health spending in a press release on Monday. During an appearance in the Senate on Tuesday he eschewed comments on the proposals.

Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro on Tuesday announced that the planned reform of the country’s health system would be ready in two weeks. The overhaul of the healthcare system would address “abuses” by redefining the services offered by it.

Montoro said one of the likely changes would be to introduce a means-related system of payment for some of the items offered by the healthcare system. Economy Ministry Luis de Guindos on Monday had proposed that rich people be asked to pay for public health services, but this was initially denied by the PP.

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