Rajoy looks to 2015 race with soothing pledges for tax reform and stimulus measures

PM bashes Rubalcaba for being negative and blames Socialist leader for current “agony”

The Popular Party (PP) on Sunday officially kicked off the beginning of the second half of its current term in government with pledges from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to carry out his long-awaited ambitious tax reform and other economic measures to help Spain get back on its feet.

As PP officials begin to look toward the next general elections scheduled for the end of next year, the ruling party has tried to use its three-day political conference in Valladolid to showcase proposed strategies in an effort to win voters’ confidence in its recovery plan. But at the close of national meeting, Rajoy avoided offering any specifics on his plans, but was able to muster rallying cheers from stalwart party members with an unusually aggressive attack on opposition Socialist Party leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.

The verbal blitzkrieg was seen as an attempt to breathe new life into an increasingly embattled Popular Party, which finds itself bitterly divided on a range of issues, including the government’s proposal for abortion reform; the route that should be taken that would lead to ETA’s eventual demise; and the ongoing public corruption inquiries that have engulfed many of its members.

Rajoy is also in dire need of healing the wounds that were publicly opened last week when former Prime Minister José María Aznar said that he would not be attending the conference because of prior engagements. This came hard on the heels of the announcement from hardline conservative and veteran euro deputy Jaime Mayor Oreja that he will not be running for re-election in the upcoming European Parliamentary race because of unspecified personal reasons.

Both revelations on the eve of the conference helped fuel speculation that the party rifts are deep as canyons.

But Rajoy concentrated on speaking about the positive steps his government is taking as well as taking potshots at the Socialist opposition.

It will be a new, simpler tax system that will serve to reactivate the economy"

“We are going to implement fiscal reform – of course we will,” he told party members, while at the same time recognizing that the changes to the tax code, an integral part the PP’s 2011 campaign platform, has until now been overlooked.

“It won’t be a mere touch up or minor adjustments in order to accomplish a decrease in tax rates. No, it will be a new, simpler tax system that will serve to reactivate the economy and stimulate savings,” the prime minister said.

As part of the changes, Rajoy said that from next year he will seek to gradually decrease tax rates. “I would have liked to have accomplished this already,” he admitted.

His attack on Rubalcaba was aimed at the opposition leader himself rather than making a full assault on the Socialists as a whole.

“He was deputy prime minister of a government that ruined Spain. It doesn’t bother me that he is criticizing me, but what bothers me is that he is discouraging people when he was partly responsible for our current agony – either you shut up or recognize the people’s merits,” he said.

In a quick response, Rubalcaba on his Facebook page demanded that Rajoy must explain all the corruption cases against the PP that are being investigated.

“Speak, explain, Mr Rajoy, and stop telling the rest of us to shut up,” Rubalcaba posted.

As it approaches the May 25 European Parliamentary elections, the PP finds itself losing ground to the Socialists. A recent Metroscopia poll carried out for EL PAÍS shows that the Socialists have just over a one-and-half percentage point lead over the PP. Back in November the ruling party was just over one point ahead of the main opposition grouping.

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