Spain's opposition leader vows to curb spending, debt

30th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Spain's conservative opposition leader Mariano Rajoy, frontrunner to become prime minister next year, vowed to impose spending and debt limits if elected, in an interview published Monday.

Rajoy's Popular Party is riding high after crushing the ruling Socialist Party in local elections May 22 when voters took revenge over an economic crisis and soaring unemployment.

Asked what his first act would be if made prime minister, he said the most important would be to lay out a broad package of economic measures to restore confidence in society and the economy.

Rajoy said his priorities were to tighten budgets, reform labour market rules and encourage entrepreneurs.

"The first would be to approve a budget stability law fixing a ceiling on spending and debt in all government administrations, that is a priority," Rajoy told the conservative daily ABC.

Rajoy said labour market reform would be his second priority.

Spain's unemployment rate struck 21.29 percent in the first quarter of this year -- the highest in the industrialised world -- and has provoked spontaneous protests in city centres across the country.

"We cannot have labour legislation from 40 years ago, that is a priority," he said, without detailing proposed changes.

The opposition chief also said he would present a law on entrepreneurs.

"Spain needs a million more entrepreneurs in the years ahead. I am not talking about big businesses, which are also very welcome, but people who create small businesses, who have an idea and employ one, two, three, or four workers," Rajoy said.

"History shows that the most prosperous nations are those that have more entrepreneurs."

Spanish general elections are due by March 2012.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has vowed not to stand in the election and is backing his deputy Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba in primaries to pick a successor as Socialist party leader.

Zapatero's government last year set a public deficit limit on Spain's 17 autonomous regions, which run schools and hospitals and account for about half of all public spending.

The limit, set at 1.3 percent of gross domestic product this year and next, was aimed at convincing bond markets that Spain can control its public finances and avoid the type of bailout extended to Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

The Socialist government has also embarked on reforms to make it easier to hire and fire workers, and it agreed in January after talks with unions to raise the retirement age to 67 from 65.

© 2011 AFP

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