Thousands protest Spanish deficit cap law

6th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Thousands of Spaniards joined a union protest Tuesday against a government plan to enshrine balanced budgets in the constitution.

Several thousand protesters from major unions and leftist groups rallied in central Madrid demanding a referendum on the proposed cap on long-term budget deficits.

Many carried banners reading: "I vote for my constitution!"; "Against the reform, down with the dictatorship of the markets!"; and "Constitutional-izing poverty, No!".

"It sets a cap on the deficit you can have and that always has an impact on social questions -- education, health," said 57-year-old Labour Union (CCOO) staff member Ana Maria Garcia.

Bank of Spain employee Guillermo Lago, 57, also of the Labour Union, said the law, which comes into effect in 2020, would make the next generation pay for the crisis.

"We are condemning the future of the next generations," he said.

The protesters, organised chiefly by the Labour Union and General Workers Union (UGT), marched peacefully from the Plaza Cibeles square to the central Puerta del Sol.

Hundreds of supporters of the "indignant" movement against politicians' handling of Spain's economic crisis -- marched behind the union activists in support.

Under the constitutional change, Spain must stick to a long-term deficit cap except in times of natural disaster, recession, or extraordinary emergencies and even then only with approval of the lower house of parliament.

An accompanying law to be enacted by June 30 next year would set the actual figure for the structural deficit at 0.4 percent of annual gross domestic product from 2020.

Although unions oppose the change, it easily swept through the lower house with support from both the ruling Socialists and conservative opposition Popular Party.

It is expected to cruise through a Senate vote Wednesday.

There will then be a 15-day period during which a referendum can be forced if it garners the support of 10 percent of either house.

Unions say a referendum can easily be organised during November 20 general elections, which the Popular Party is widely expected to win.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was visiting Turkey, insisted Spain would not require an international bailout and would "survive tensions" sweeping the markets.

"Spain of course will finance itself," he told a news conference in Ankara with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"We will survive these tensions. They are not good for our economy, but we will survive them.

"We have strength. We have taken measures for that and we planned for the scenarios that we might face in the last part of this year."

His remarks came a day after a union leader claimed that Zapatero told unions August 17 that Spain was on the verge of a financial rescue.

But the Labour Union chief, Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, backtracked on Tuesday, saying Zapatero did not in fact use those words.

© 2011 AFP

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