Spanish PM hails uptick in economy
Spain's prime minister Thursday hailed encouraging signs in the beleaguered economy and pledged the government would meet its deficit target this year without new austerity measures.
The Spanish economy slumped into recession during the second half of 2008 as the global financial meltdown compounded the collapse of the once-booming property market. It emerged with meagre growth in early 2010.
The crisis sent the unemployment rate soaring to 21.29 percent in the first quarter of 2011, the highest in the industrialised world, and has whipped up nationwide demonstrations against the government's austerity measures.
Protesters angered by unemployment, political corruption and welfare cuts have occupied city centre squares across Spain in a movement that erupted May 15.
Labour Ministry figures Thursday showed the number of job seekers declined 1.87 percent from the previous month to 4.19 million in May.
"The figure is undoubtedly positive," Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in an interview with Spanish public radio.
"We are entering into better months for employment," the prime minister added. "We hope this trend will consolidate and intensify in the last months of the year and the start of 2012."
The jobless total was up 3.04 percent from a year earlier, however.
The ranks of the unemployed peaked in March at 4.33 million, the highest number since the figures were first collated in their current format in 1996.
Spain, with an economy the size of the Greek, Irish and Portuguese economies combined, has been battling to convince markets that it should not be lumped together with the three lame ducks now under EU and IMF rescue terms.
The government has enacted reforms to strengthen bank balance sheets, cut state spending, make it easier to hire and fire workers, lower the retirement age and sell off assets.
Zapatero also pledged to cut Spain's public deficit to 6.0 percent of economic output in 2011 as promised, without imposing further cuts.
"We are in a position to confirm that we will achieve the deficit goal, which is six percent," he told Spanish radio.
Compliance with the budget in the first quarter of 2011 was "very satisfactory," he said.
Asked whether further austerity measures would be needed, the prime minister replied: "No, there is no plan of that kind."
Spain's budget deficit narrowed in the first four months of the year, according to Finance Ministry figures released Tuesday.
Spanish economic activity picked up gently in the first quarter of 2011, expanding 0.3 percent when compared to the previous quarter, according to official data released last month.
The prime minister also announced the government will approve the reform of the collective bargaining system by June 10 even if discussions with the unions fail by then.
Unions and employers have been negotiating for months over reform of the collective bargaining system, considered a crucial plank of labour, banking and pension reforms aimed at reviving the economy.
The International Monetary Fund and the Bank of Spain believe the collective bargaining system in Spain, which includes industry-wide agreements that cannot be modified, is too rigid.
But in a sign of continuing concerns in the European debt markets, the government had to pay out higher rates Thursday to auction off nearly four billion euros ($5.8 billion) of bonds.
© 2011 AFP