Spain PM looks to company bosses to plot way out of trouble
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is to convene a meeting of Spain's top 25 company bosses in a bid to plot a path out of the country's economic crisis, he told the El Pais daily on Sunday.
Assessing the political impact of his Socialist government's austerity measures, Zapatero said that "it's not easy to say to workers that it is time to curb their salaries ... nor is it easy to say to business leaders that it is the time to rein in their benefits."
The prime minister has seen a sharp drop in his popularity but Zapatero said it would be easier to argue his case once there was a return to sustained growth, and he promised there were no new austerity measures on the cards.
"Trying to explain things when the crisis still has a heavy impact on people's daily lives is not easy. But when we have a genuine consolidation of growth, our explanation will be more convincing," he told the daily.
Spain currently has the European Union's highest unemployment rate at almost 20 percent while it struggles to return to sustainable growth after a period of recession.
The prime minister said that improving levels of investment and competitiveness were his two top priorities, and he thus wanted to "meet with our top 25 leaders of industry within the coming days".
"We must increase the level of foreign investment in Spain and raise our levels of exports," he said, adding that he intended to travel to several Asian countries in January, including China, India and Japan.
As part of his bid to turn the situation around, Zapatero introduced a hotly contested labour market reform earlier this year that cut the country's high cost of firing workers and gives companies more flexibility to reduce working hours and staff levels in economic downturns.
His government also intends to raise the retirement age to 67 from 65, another measure fiercely opposed by unions.
Spain came out of a deep recession in the first quarter of 2010 with growth of 0.1 percent followed by 0.2 percent in the second but it was flat in the third.
Forecasts for next year and 2012 are not promising, variously with growth of around 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent.
Asked during the interview about the Basque separatist movement ETA, Zapatero said they were now "weaker than ever" but added that it would be premature to write them off completely.
ETA's announcement in September of a truce has been met with scepticism from the Spanish government because it has broken such ceasefires without warning in the past.
© 2010 AFP