Catalonia premier says that region will miss its deficit targets

Mas claims further spending cuts impossible without undermining social welfare

Acting Catalan premier Artur Mas announced on Monday that the region could not meet the deficit reduction targets set by the central government without substantially reducing social welfare, and called on the country’s regions as a whole to jointly ask for a more equitable division of the burden of getting the state’s financial house back in order.

Mas suffered a setback in regional elections held last month in which his center-right CiU national bloc saw the number of seats it won fall in the regional assembly. After having his request for a revenue-sharing pact with Madrid rejected, Mas called for an early poll running on an independence platform. However, he failed to win the absolute majority he was seeking and has asked the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) to form a coalition government, a request that has so far been rebuffed.

Last week, Catalonia announced further spending cuts of four billion euros. The ERC has objected to the government’s austerity drive, which requires the regions to meet a deficit target for this year of 1.5 percent and 0.7 percent for next year. The target for the central government for this year is 4.5 percent of GDP.

Mas said the state as a whole would fail to meet its target for this year of 6.3 percent of GDP. “Everybody knows we will fall short in 2012,” he said. The Catalan premier criticized the austerity line pushed by the European Commission, which he said was strangling the economies of southern Europe, leaving no room for recovery. He also lashed out at the central government for introducing “very severe adjustments that make no sense for Catalonia nor the rest of the regions.”

Addressing the regional parliament, Mas said his government had requested some five billion euros of assistance from the central administration’s Regional Liquidity Fund, given that the regions have been cut off from the wholesale markets.

Meanwhile, the regions said on Monday that they would receive four billion euros less this year than they have requested from the FLA.

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