Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday pledged to continue with his government's economic policy despite criticism from former Popular Party leader and premier José María Aznar, who called for tax cuts and hinted at a return to the political fray.
At a news conference, Rajoy refused to be drawn in by journalists to respond to Aznar’s comments as leading members of the ruling conservative party expressed their loyalty to the prime minister. Asked several times for his reaction to Aznar’s remarks, Rajoy said: “You’re not going to find me caught up in any polemic with a former prime minister, and least of all with Prime Minister Aznar.”
True to his reputation for equivocation, when journalist persisted, Rajoy said jocundly: “I would ask you not to make me say the same thing, even if it is in a different way.”
When asked in an interview with television channel Antena 3 on Tuesday if he would return to politics if circumstances demanded, Aznar said: “I would fulfill my responsibility with my conscience, with my party and with my country. I have never shirked my responsibilities.”
This party was loyal to Prime Minister Aznar and that means we are also loyal to Rajoy"
Aznar, who stood down as prime minister after two terms in office in 2004 and ceded leadership of the PP to Rajoy, also called on the ruling party to establish a “clear political project.”
“I am going to maintain the direction of economic policy,” Rajoy confined himself to saying. “A direction has been set and we have to keep to it, and it will allow us to emerge from the crisis,” he added. “I am doing what we believe we have to do.”
PP barons rallied around their leader. “The PP is a party of loyalties,” said Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the premier of the region of Galicia and one of the party’s leading barons. “This party was loyal to Prime Minister Aznar and that means in consequence that its loyalty to Prime Minister Rajoy is unswerving.”
Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría said the Rajoy government was working to pull the country out of its economic crisis.
Ex-PM on offensive against EL PAÍS
José María Aznar went on the attack on Tuesday night in a television interview after months of silence over the scandals engulfing the Popular Party. The former prime minister denied having received any illegal extra payments while in office and said that he had dedicated 10 percent of his salary toward running costs at La Moncloa presidential palace.
Asked about the 32,452 euros gifted by Gürtel leader Francisco Correa at his daughter’s wedding, the ex-PM retorted: “It seems normal enough that people invited to a wedding make gifts. And some do so in connection with their work. [Correa] was invited by the groom. Nobody knew about any other activities of his. How can you say that gifts were received from a corrupt network?” Aznar also attacked EL PAÍS, which published the accounts of ex-PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas. “The PRISA group publishes lies about me [...] a group that is practically bankrupt and that sold Cuatro to Silvio Berlusconi while he was under judicial investigation.”
“Spain is going through a difficult moment,” she said. “This government is working to make a go of things.”
Referring to Rajoy’s Socialist predecessor as prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a man who suffered the constant barbs bordering on ridicule from the then PP opposition, the new PP spokesman in the Basque regional assembly, Borja Semper, said in his Twitter account: “Zapatero has consolidated his position as the best former prime minister.”
Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro reiterated the government’s position that it had no alternative but to reluctantly raise taxes in order to reduce the public deficit. “I would like to lower taxes but there is no room to do so,” he said. The government has indicated it wants to reverse tax hikes once an economic recovery is well under way.
The PP’s congressional spokesman, Alfonso Alonso, said Rajoy’s reformist agenda was helping the country to recover. “Everyone can say what they think and Aznar as well, of course,” he said. “A democratic system is based on informed political debate.”
Congressional speaker, Jesús Posada, who held the agriculture and public administrations portfolios under Aznar, suggested the former PP leader might be suffering from an attack of nostalgia. “Things are not going to go back to the way they were,” he said. “The passage of time is inexorable. There are things that had their moment, and I believe that those of us who were with him [Aznar] can feel very proud.”
Rajoy also received some support from the opposition in the shape of the congressional spokesman of the CiU center-right nationalist coalition group, Josep Antoni Duran Lleida. “He hasn’t done Rajoy any good and Rajoy doesn´t deserve the comments of Aznar,” he said.
Elena Valenciano, the number two in the main opposition Socialist Party, said the idea of Aznar’s return was like a mixture of “the time tunnel and the ghost train,” while Cayo Lara, the coordinator of the United Left group, referred to the legacy left by Aznar of Spain’s participation in the war against Iraq and the subsequent train bomb blasts on March 11, 2004 in Madrid, which left 191 people dead.
One of the few PP leaders who came out clearly in support of Aznar was Madrid regional premier Ignacio González. He described Aznar as “probably the best prime minister Spain” has had in the modern era, adding that his opinions are “enormously interesting for everyone.”