Tough measures needed, Spain's opposition leader warns

8th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

The leader of Spain's main opposition conservative party on Saturday vowed a rigorous programme to get the country out of its economic crisis if elected in legislative elections in November.

Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy, the front-runner in the election, set out the broad lines of his policy in a speech closing his party's annual convention in Malaga, southern Spain.

He paid particular attention to the country's record unemployment levels, running at 20.89 percent of the workforce, and promised to make job creation a priority if elected.

"The plight of the five million Spanish people who want to work and cannot -- and the anguish of the one million households all of whose members are unemployed -- worries me, as it does everyone," he told delegates.

"Our country is going through a serious social, economic and institutional crisis which is going to oblige us to make a great effort in future," he said.

But Spain can and will emerge from the crisis, he argued.

On Friday, Fitch Ratings slashed Spain's sovereign credit rating by two notches, blaming regional government spending, weak economic growth and the eurozone debt crisis.

That decision pushed the country's already expensive borrowing costs even higher.

Rajoy has denounced the outgoing socialist government, in power since 2004, for leaving "the worst legacy that any government has ever left its successor".

To get the country's finances in order, Rajoy proposed a coherent economic policy that would be based on "austerity and reforms".

"We want to defend social cohesion, the welfare state and public services ... but with good economic management," he said.

"Administrations should not spend what they do not have," he added.

The 56-year-old politician has yet to set out his own policies in detail.

Since July however he has made it clear that Spain's 17 regions, whose poor economic management was a contributory factor in Friday's ratings downgrade, could no longer be allowed to have a budget deficit.

And the two main themes of his programme to date have been an austerity programme to tackle the economic crisis; and job creation to bring down the country's rampant unemployment.

The socialists' new leader, 60-year-old Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, also acknowledged last weekend that unemployment was the major challenge facing the country, in a speech setting out his own programme.

But he has denounced the budget cuts pushed through by regional government's controlled by the right.

Right-wing leaders of some regions, most of whom won power in May regional elections, have imposed swingeing cuts in key areas such as health and education, provoking protests on the streets.

But the Popular Party nevertheless looks set to win next month's election as the ruling socialists have seen their popularity fall with each austerity measure they have introduced since 2010 in their struggle to get the country's finances in order.

© 2011 AFP

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