Spain's ruling, opposition parties sign deficit deal
Spain's ruling and opposition parties bridged bitter rivalry and struck a deal Friday to cap the long-term public deficit and fend off fears of a state debt crisis.
The ruling Socialist and conservative opposition Popular Party set a maximum structural or long-term deficit in the annual budget of 0.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) from 2020, a copy of the accord showed.
Reached after long negotiations reaching into the early hours of the morning, the new rules are to be enshrined in the constitution.
The deal, the broad outlines of which were first announced two days earlier, was a surprise in Spain's highly charged political climate ahead of November 20 general elections.
The Popular Party, which blames the Socialists for Spain's economic ills including a jobless rate of more than 20 percent, is riding high in the opinion polls ahead of the vote.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is not running in the elections, and his former deputy and interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba is the Socialists' new standard bearer.
Rubalcaba said the deal was made more urgent by the turmoil of August when Standard & Poor's stripped the US of top AAA-rated credit rating, stock markets plunged and investors fled assets in Spain, Italy and even France.
"We had a bad August," he told a news conference.
"The eurozone and its states' sovereign debt have lost the confidence of the investment world. Today, Europe inspires less confidence than a month ago," Rubalcaba said.
"We have to get that confidence back and we have to send clear messages to investors that we are a solvent country."
Rubalcaba said the 2020 date for the constitutional reform sent an important message to buyers of Spain's government debt, much of which is repayable over the longer term.
Under the deal, the Spanish state would be allowed a structural deficit of up to 0.26 percent of GDP and the 17 semi-autonomous regions a maximum shortfall of 0.14 percent of GDP.
Smaller, local governments would be required to show a balanced budget.
The structural deficit could be revised in 2015 and 2018 at the request of either of the political parties, according to the agreement, which they plan to approve by June 30 next year.
The deal, released on the Socialist Party's website, covers only the structural or long-term deficit.
It does not try to prevent budget swings caused by the economic cycle, for example deficits incurred in times of recession because of falling tax income and higher spending on unemployment benefits.
Spain is seeking to slash the public deficit to 6.0 percent of GDP by the end of this year from 9.2 percent in 2010. It aims to reach the EU-target of 3.0 percent by 2013.
The new law also will set out criteria for trimming Spain's total accumulated public debt, aiming to reach by 2020 the level agreed with the European Union.
Spain's total public debt amounted to 63.6 percent of annual GDP at the end of March, surpassing the EU limit of 60 percent but still well below the bloc's average of 80 percent.
Separately, government ministers Friday cleared a fresh package of labour market reforms aimed at fighting an unemployment rate running at more than 20 percent, and more than 45-percent for under 25s.
Among the reforms, temporary jobs will no longer be automatically converted into permanent jobs after two years, a measure that had led many employers to cut temporary workers before they joined the payroll for good.
The government also introduced a new type of job contract for youths aged 16-25 without qualifications, allowing them to spend 25 percent of their time in training.
© 2011 AFP