With just months to go before Spain holds general elections, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Friday summed up his administration’s work with a message of hope for the future.
But while the conservative leader touted the country's economic recovery, he also issued another stern warning to Catalonia, asserting that the northeastern region will never break away from Spain.
The Catalan conundrum
After a glowing review of the economy, Rajoy insisted on the Catalan issue and on plans by regional premier Artur Mas to declare unilateral independence from Spain if his secessionist bloc Junts pel si wins the regional elections on September 27.
Though formally held to elect a new regional assembly, the ballot is being cast by secessionists as a plebiscitary vote that will express Catalans' level of support for the sovereignty drive.
“The government is going to keep a watchful eye to ensure the law is obeyed, and we will continue to defend the law. There won’t be any plebiscite vote just in the same way there was no independence referendum held, despite all the propaganda. No self-respecting country can allow the law to be broken just for political benefit,” said Rajoy.
Catalans held an informal referendum last November in which 1.8 million people voted for independence.
Rajoy said that his government will not allow Catalans to be “deprived” of their Spanish citizenship or European Union membership.
At the same time, the prime minister warned of the possibility that the current political situation in Greece could send shock waves to Spain.
His message was seen as a clear warning against the intentions of the anti-austerity Podemos party, which has made inroads in many municipalities and regions since the May 24 elections.
“Government leaders are here to solve problems, not create them,” he said in a blind reference to Alexis Tsipras’ Greek government, which Podemos has aligned itself with. “And one way of creating problems is when you make promises to people that are impossible to keep"
A bright economic future
At his 111th news conference held during his term, which has not officially ended yet, the Popular Party (PP) leader said that the future for Spaniards appears much brighter than it was two years ago and added that more people are “congratulating” his government’s efforts as they see the fruits of the recovery.
“I want to point out that today things have improved and Spaniards can look forward to a more secure future with more optimism than ever,” said the prime minister, predicting that Spain will post the highest economic growth in the euro zone this year.
Even though Rajoy will raise pensions by 0.25 percent under next year’s budget plan, he said that more social security contributions are needed to help pay retirees, and that his government will continue with efforts to bring down the nearly 26 percent unemployment rate.
The Cabinet on Friday approved the projected 2016 budget, which also contains measures aimed at reducing the public deficit from the current 4.2 percent to 2.6 percent by the end of 2016.
The early presentation of the budget is viewed by many as an election strategy to help the PP at the polls when the general election is called before the end of this year.
The budget also includes some additional spending on public work projects as well as research and development, which had been held up in previous years, the prime minister explained.
Plagued by corruption
According to the latest CIS government research center poll, the PP’s approval rating has dropped to 25.6 percent from 44.63 percent in November 2011, when Rajoy won the election in a landslide victory.
Plagued by a string of corruption scandals throughout his term, the Rajoy administration has struggled to regain voter confidence, but has so far been unsuccessful, as evidenced by the May elections, where the PP lost important strongholds including Madrid and Valencia.
Now, as the prime minister closes out his term, the Rajoy administration is facing a new corruption scandal involving PP leaders in Madrid.
Reporters asked Rajoy about the revelations contained in the court report on the Púnica illegal kickbacks-for-contracts case, which has ensnared a group of top-ranking and mid-level PP officials, including former Madrid senior official Francisco Granados, who is being held in preventive custody.
This week’s revelations from court documents allege that public funds were used under the PP regional government of Ignacio González to “pay favors” to a computer expert to fill the internet with positive coverage about the premier’s administration.
Rajoy called the allegations “absolutely reproachable” and said “we would have preferred never to have learned about them.”
“We have to try to ensure that these things never happen again,” he said.
English version by Martin Delfín