politics

Why Castilla-La Mancha has become the PP's experimental laboratory

Many of the cutbacks the Cabinet wants are tried and tested in this region first

Castilla-La Mancha regional premier María Dolores de Cospedal.
Castilla-La Mancha regional premier María Dolores de Cospedal.Chema Moya (EFE)

"We won't let you down." These were the first words uttered by María Dolores de Cospedal on election night, on May 22, 2011, after becoming the regional premier of Castilla-La Mancha. Just a month later, Cospedal - who is also the secretary general of the conservative Popular Party (PP) - announced the first spending cuts of her administration.

It was the beginning of two years marked by constant adjustment plans in a region that has often served as a testing ground for the national government, which has then implemented similar initiatives nationwide. Some of these projects include the elimination of public agencies, streamlining high-ranking government positions by as much as 60 percent, and a long list of "savings and rationalization measures," which together represent a significant reduction in the size of the government.

This includes spending cuts to public health and education, thousands of layoffs, no salaries for regional deputies, and a recently approved motion to axe as many as half of the regional representatives, bringing the total assembly members down to a minimum of 25 from the current 49.

The basic rights of citizens are being upheld and will continue to be so into the future"

The Cospedal administration says there was no alternative, even though it knew that government reform would be an unpopular project. Sources in the regional administration say that "thanks to the implementation of these measures, Castilla-La Mancha has reduced a deficit of 7.8 percent of GDP at the close of 2011 down to 1.5 percent in 2012." The effort is being described as "historical" and "without precedent" in PP circles.

Even Cospedal herself admitted recently that "of course some services have disappeared." But she asserted that "the basic rights of citizens are being upheld and will continue to be so into the future."

The opposition, however, says that this administration has caused "a 10-year leap back in time, with more unemployment, more crisis, more taxes, more waiting lists, fewer doctors, fewer teachers and fewer rights," in the words of the Socialist Emiliano García-Page, the mayor of Toledo.

What nobody denies is that the trail blazed by Castilla-La Mancha has been a herald of changes to come nationwide. The best example of this is the government reform announced last week by Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, who talked about savings of 6.44 billion euros over the next three years. This forecast is partly dependent on regional governments' compliance with federal recommendations regarding the elimination of ombudsmen, audit courts and other public agencies.

Several PP leaders believe that Cospedal's policies were "pioneering" because she was the first to announce the elimination of the regional ombudsman, the regional competition commission and the Economic and Social Council. But the Socialists are accusing the regional government of massaging the numbers and meeting deficit targets at the expense of higher debt.

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