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CATALAN ELECTIONS

Mas seeks allies for parliament as 2013 budget augurs gathering storm

ERC offers hand but with veto over cutbacks, while Socialists turn down pact

In the aftermath of Sunday's regional elections in Catalonia, the leader of the Generalitat, Artur Mas, faces an uphill challenge to carry forward his dual mandate of seeking a referendum on independence from Spain and effecting massive cutbacks in public spending.

The results of Sunday's poll left the CiU leader well short of the "exceptional majority" he had sought in support of his secessionist drive. His center-right nationalist CiU grouping lost 12 seats in the regional assembly, leading Mas to seek either a coalition government or a broad pact in order to form an administration.

"We cannot govern alone," admitted Josep Antoni Duran Lleida, the leader of the Democratic Union of Catalonia, one of the components of the CiU bloc.

Mas will not find the task at hand easy. The Catalan Socialists (PSC) have already batted away CiU's advances. Speaking on Cadena Ser radio on Tuesday, PSC leader Pere Navarro said: "We are willing to talk but there is no common ground for an agreement." Pushed on the issue of whether there is a chance of reaching a pact of governance, Navarro replied with a flat "no."

ERC will not be an obstacle to Artur Mas being regional premier"

The vice secretary general of the national Socialist Party, Elena Valenciano, toed a similar line in an interview with RNE. "We are a long way from an accord with CiU," she stated. "The bridge to be gapped is enormous because of [CiU's] management of the economy and the cutbacks in rights and services."

Mas will therefore turn his attention to the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), which became the region's second-largest political force after winning 21 seats. In the leftist grouping Mas will encounter a willing bedfellow for a referendum on self-determination, but will also find the pillow next him to cold when talk turns to further cutbacks. "ERC will not prove an obstacle to Artur Mas being regional premier," said the group's leader, Oriol Junqueras, in an interview with TV-3 on Tuesday. However, Junqueras was also coy over forming a coalition government, stating it was not necessary to do so to "help the country."

"What we can give to the country is a broad agreement between the government and the leader of the opposition," he added. "The great challenges always demand shared leadership. We seek a clear and concise national agenda, which should include a date and the conditions under which a referendum will be held. But we will not support any further spending cuts."

The ERC leader's immovable stance on cutbacks coincided with the announcement Tuesday of the regional budget for 2013. It did not make for cheerful reading for CiU. "We have ahead us the worst budget in the history of the Generalitat," said regional government spokesman Francesc Homs.

The 2013 budget forecasts a considerable reduction in income, which has led the administration to plan cutbacks for the year equivalent to the total carried out over the course of 2012 and 2011. The figure Homs produced was 7.258 billion euros, equivalent to the 10-percent reduction in the 2011 budget and the cutbacks agreed by the Fiscal and Financial Policy Commission for this year of 4.578 billion euros. Homs said the savings target of four billion euros for 2013 would mean further redundancies in the public sector.

"Governing Catalonia today, under the current conditions, while discounting the possibility of death, requires the same capacity for resistance that the people of Barcelona displayed in 1713 and 1714 in the face of the Bourbon siege," concluded the Generalitat's spokesman.

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