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Rajoy, part II

Prime minister keeps mum on sacrifices to be asked of the public and his economic plans

The opposition and the country’s labor unions have put their guard up after the announcement made on Thursday by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy that his government will draw up a law that guarantees the delivery of minimum services during strikes. This government tends to fall into the temptation of legislating in the heat of the moment and the images of garbage piling up in the streets of Madrid during the recent cleaners’ strike undoubtedly has something to do with the prime minister’s announcement. But it would be a mistake to act unilaterally on something that affects one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, which is the right to strike. That is not to deny that the regulation of this right is a task that is pending in which labor unions, employers and the opposition should have their say.

At the halfway stage of the government’s mandate, the fear exists of another turn of the screw in its use of the ruling conservative Popular Party’s absolute majority in Congress to push through legislation combined with a plethora of decrees.

The education system cannot be reformed, as was the case, without exhaustive explanation and debate. Nor can Rajoy’s assertion that “you have to ask for permission to launch a protest” be accepted as a god-given truth. The Constitution provides for quite the opposite: you don’t need permission. What is does require is previous notification of a planned protest, which can only be prohibited “when there are well-founded grounds to expect a breach of public order.” The right to demonstrate has been thus respected for many years and has limited the use of violence in the exercise of that right to a minimum.

To avail oneself of the power granted by an absolute majority to substantially changes the rules of the game would not only risk further political clashes, but also exacerbate problems in the street that have so far been relatively isolated.

In the interview Rajoy granted to the state broadcaster Radio Nacional de España he confirmed the government’s plans to overhaul the tax system and its determination to end the legislature with lower unemployment than when the PP came into office. The prime minister has acknowledged having been unable to keep previous promises he made and, therefore, his pledges are of relative value. The persistence of high unemployment is a stain on the government’s stewardship of the economy in the two years that have passed since the PP’s victory in the general elections of November 2011. The failure to address this problem constitutes a threat to the party’s re-election. Rajoy also warned that there will be further cutbacks in public spending and only committed himself to promising that they would “not be of the same magnitude” as previous ones carried out by his administration.

On the issue of fiscal reform, the prime minister gave very little way other than to say the government doesn’t plan any further changes to the value-added tax system but it does intend to modify personal income taxes, which could shape up to be the key to the end of the legislature.

Rajoy was mistaken in the way he tried to shrug off the problem of corruption within his party. In the case of the PP’s disgraced former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, who kept secret ledgers detailing shadowy payments and illegal donations, Rajoy said he had certain information in 2009 and that now he has “other” information. “That’s the way things go,” he added, as if what had happened was on a par with an unexpected change in the weather. The prime minister is planning to present himself in forthcoming elections having turned the page too soon on an issue that concerns democratic integrity.

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