SPANISH POLITICIANS TO VOTE ON CATALONIA’S RIGHT TO A REFERENDUM ON INDEPENDENCE

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Spanish politicians are preparing to vote on whether to allow Catalonia’s regional assembly to hold a referendum on independence from Spain.

But for many the outcome is a foregone conclusion; Spain’s ruling Popular Party strongly opposes the motion, leaving it likely to be rejected.

“I think those things are best resolved through talking,” said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. “And not through taking decisions unilaterally, then putting them in front of the rest of us afterwards.”

Officials in the north eastern region have vowed to vote on the issue in November, regardless of Tuesday’s result.

“I’m not going to participate in this debate. It is a decision taken in the Catalonian Parliament and I’m the President of the Government of Catalonia,” Artur Mas told euronews. “My government didn’t send the draft law to the Spanish Parliament to obtain the right to organise the referendum.”

Catalonia has seen hundreds of thousands of people rally for independence. But last month Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that a move by Catalan leaders to unilaterally hold a referendum would be unconstitutional.

INDEPENDENCE FROM SPAIN: CATALONIA’S DREAM, EUROPE’S DILEMMA

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Artur Mas, the head of the autonomous Catalan government in Spain, is at the forefront of a campaign to hold a referendum on independence from Spain on November 9.

The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Madrid opposes independence for Catalonia and has rejected the idea of a referendum.

The Spanish parliament is set to vote against the plebiscite in a debate on April 8.

Artur Mas, who is backed by secessionists and the Greens, spoke to euronews’ Vicenc Batalla in Barcelona about this key question for all of Europe.

euronews Artur Mas, what are the chances of an independence referendum taking place on November 9 and that Catalonia will become independent one day.

Artur Mas There are possibilities. The Catalan government and myself will do the maximum to ensure that this referendum, for which there is a large consensus in Catalonia, will go ahead as agreed on November 9 2014. We’re putting in place all the conditions needed to make it possible. And I expect that there won’t be any categorical or radical opposition on the part of the Spanish institutions that would seek to prevent the peaceful and democratic staging of this referendum, or consultation, which, by the way, will be held legally, in agreement with a law, a Spanish law or a Catalan law. That’s what we’re in the process of clarifying at the moment.

euronews Why do you think David Cameron agreed to a referendum on Scottish independence while Mariano Rajoy would not accept one for Catalonia?.

Artur Mas Probably in the UK there’s a more profound democratic will than in Spain. I regret that because I would love to say that in Spain there is the same talent for democracy or the same feeling for democracy, or democratic will. Spain is undoubtedly a democracy. But it doesn’t have the same depth as British democracy. That’s the reality.

I think that Prime Minister Cameron recognised that in Scotland a parliament had been voted in with a popular mandate to hold a referendum. He democratically accepted the verdict of the Scottish. He never thought of denying that Scotland was a nation. In Spain it’s denied that Catalonia is a nation. That’s the first big mistake because that vision is contrary to what history tells us, as we can see from the walls of this palace (where the interview is taking place) dating from the beginning of the 15th century and which has always been the seat of the Catalan government when we’ve won freedom and democracy. This vision is also against the will of the majority of Catalan citizens.

euronews The question of whether Catalonia stays within the EU or not if it becomes independent is going to heavily influence voters’ opinion. The European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso says an independent Scotland, like Catalonia, would have to leave the Union and ask to be re-admitted.

Artur Mas Yes, but in saying that they didn’t say what the precedents were, because there are none. They didn’t say that in the EU treaties, and more precisely in the Lisbon Treaty, there’s no consideration of such a case. It’s not been considered simply because they never thought that one day it would come about. Consequently, there’s nothing in writing. They don’t say what will happen to the rights of citizenship held for many many years by Scottish citizens or Catalans; citizenship rights that can’t be annulled or swept aside overnight.

And, above all, one thing they didn’t say; in the case of an exit, under what conditions can we be reintegrated? Do we come back as countries that were never part of the European Union and that have never put in place the Union’s norms and rules? Under what conditions? Or will there be totally different conditions, negotiated and with an agreement for citizens who are already in the Union and submit to all the rules? And for those who, like Catalonia, are net contributors to the EU and want to stay inside it?

euronews Is an independent Catalonia economically possible? Are business leaders asking you to push ahead with the process or rather, in fact, go backwards?

Artur Mas Both, actually. And you’d expect that. There are entrepreneurs who have interests all over Spain and those who have less. The more interests you have in all of Spain, the more the process is a conflict for you. Entrepreneurs who have fewer interests, who export more and are less dependent on the Spanish market have a different view.

Who fears this process? No one should be afraid! It’s true that some are trying to instill fear from the outside. Many! And particularly some media in Madrid who never stop this campaign of fear. They never stop! But in Catalonia, we see much more emotional detachment because we can see that all they’re trying to do is divide us and break up the majority for the referendum.

euronews In your search for allies in Europe, France could play an important role because there’s a part of France where they speak Catalan, at Perpignon. What do you think the French reaction would be if independence is achieved in Catalonia?

Artur Mas I don’t know! I can’t tell you. You know very well that France is above all a centralist state. That is a principle that’s broadly accepted in France. Not by everybody, but the majority. In Spain it’s different, very different. In Spain there are two or three national realities, which don’t exist in the same way in France. These are realities that have always been resisted here.

Moreover – and this is very important – what’s happening in Catalonia is not destined to be replicated in other parts of Europe. There’s the situation in Scotland, but that too is very particular. There are not a lot of European nationality issues that can be compared to what’s happening in Catalonia. And certainly no such situation exists in France. From that point of view I think France has nothing to fear because the Catalan process is very particular. It’s a very specific process. And, I stress, there are no similar situations in the majority of the territories on the continent of Europe.

euronews At the moment there’s a very significant and potentially violent situation in Crimea between Russia and Ukraine. When the Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo made a negative comparison between the situation in Crimea and Catalonia what did you think? And also, what do you think when Russian TV refers to Catalonia to justify the referendum organised in Crimea?

Artur Mas Look, the comparisons used in Russia are part of a scenario because they need all kinds of justifications to be able justify what’s been happening there. They make kinds of comparisons!

What surprised me most, was what the Spanish minister of foreign affairs said. For me, it’s crazy to make a comparison between Catalonia and Crimea.

I think it’s crazy because they are totally different situations. In Crimea there wasn’t a government elected with a mandate to convene a referendum. In Catalonia, yes.

In Crimea, there is no lack of pressure. And, in Catalonia, there is no kind of pressure. In Catalonia, there is a total pacifism, real democracy, an elected government with a mandate to convene a democratic consultation. Really, there’s no comparison.

SPAIN: ONE MILLION MARCH IN MADRID AGAINST AUSTERITY

By Alejandro López

Under the banner “No more cuts!” hundreds of thousands of workers, pensioners and youth took to the streets Saturday in Spain’s capital, Madrid. They were demonstrating against austerity measures, evictions, unemployment and poverty.

The genesis of the demonstration was one month ago when eight columns of protesters, which organisers called the “Marches of Dignity”, set out from different cities across Spain to converge on Madrid. Hundreds of thousands more people joined on Saturday, travelling by train, cars and buses. According to organisers, the demonstration was 1 million strong.

The main organisers were the Andalusian Workers’ Union (Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores, SAT), the Movement of Mortgage Victims (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, PAH) and the Civic Front “We Are The Majority” (Frente Cívico Somos Mayoría, FCSM) of the former leader of the United Left (Izquierda Unida, IU), Julio Anguita. Added to this, another 300 organisations supported the protesters, ranging from feminist groups, to pseudo-left parties such as Izquierda Anticapitalista, En Lucha and El Militante, to trade unions and anti-austerity organisations. They were joined by many organisations that emerged out of the mass “Indignados” protests of 2011.

Chants of “Rise! Rise! We will fight!”—“No to unemployment, no to exile, no to insecurity. March, march, march for dignity”—“What do we want? Work!” could be heard. One bloc of young protesters chanted, “No to unemployment, exile, or precariousness”.

Marchers held handmade placards denouncing the austerity measures of the ruling Popular Party (PP) government. In addition to red flags, there were flags of the Andalusian region, the Second Spanish Republic, and the anarcho-syndicalists. Many wore the T-shirts of the anti-eviction organisation Stop Evictions (Stop Desahucios) and PAH, whilst many others wore green, white and blue T-shirts representing the social movements or “waves” against cuts in public services.

Protesters also chanted against laws and recent measures carried out by the government. Marchers shouted “Free unrestricted abortion!” directed at the Church and the government’s latest abortion law that will turn the clock back 30 years. Another chant was “no person is illegal” and “they did not die, they were murdered”, in reference to the 15 migrant workers who drowned on February 6 trying to reach Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in North Africa. Police shot over 150 rubber bullets at the migrants as they were trying to reach shore.

In addition to students, unemployed and pensioners, teachers, firemen, miners, health care workers, civil servants and many others participated. Factory workers from the on-going struggles in Panrico and Coca-Cola also marched in defence of their jobs.

At the end of the demonstration, a group of mostly young protesters clashed with police, throwing stones and firecrackers, as the police used tear gas and rubber bullets. Figures released by the emergency service said that 101 people were injured (67 of them police), and 27 arrested, three of them minors.

On the same day in Berlin, a solidarity protest was held by mostly Spanish youth forced to emigrate due to the economic conditions in Spain. Eva told the online newspaper Público, “We’re here because it’s important that they know they have the support of the exiles, of those of us who have been forced to leave. We are also here to fight for our right to return, because if things continue like they are it will be impossible.”

In anticipation of the demonstration, Madrid’s authorities closed down the centre of the city for 12 hours and mobilized 1,750 anti-riot police, in addition to the hundreds of National Police and other security forces. According to the organisers, 100 buses had been stopped and searched by the infamous Civil Guard before they reached Madrid.

The Madrid regional PP government immediately launched a smear campaign against the protesters. Madrid’s premier, Ignacio González, provocatively declared, “The same things you find in their manifesto are also in the political programme of Golden Dawn, a Greek neo-Nazi group”. On the same day, he stated, “Today the radical left is protesting on the streets. We hope that they do so as long as they don’t destroy everything.”

Even more provocative was the speech of his number two, the premier’s adviser Salvador Victoria, who declared, “The Europe that will be drawn for the next few years should be seen as a reference of individual liberties against the threats of socialists, social-democrats and communists.”

The latest demonstration once again shows the readiness of the working class to fight against the austerity measures. Since the crisis erupted in 2008, the PP government and its Socialist Party (PSOE) predecessor have imposed billions of euros in cuts, gutting public health care and education. They have imposed new labour laws facilitating redundancies, flexibility and destroying job security.

The class tensions in Spain are brewing a social explosion. Unemployment has risen to 6 million, (26 percent of the active population). Of these, 37 percent have lost all welfare benefits. Some 630,000 families now receive no income whatsoever. According to the NGO Caritas there are currently 3 million people living on less than €307 per month, whilst Eurostat confirms the existence of 13 million people (28 percent of the population) living in risk of poverty or social exclusion. In 2008 it was 23 percent.

This has led to resistance on the part of the workers and unemployed. An average of 27 protests are held every day and 184 strikes broke out between January and February amounting to 2,668,556 lost hours, an increase of nearly 6 percent from the same period the year before.

The support for official politics is at an all-time low. Polling for the PP and the PSOE has slumped to 32 percent and 26 percent respectively, the lowest joint-turnout since the transition to democracy in 1978. The unions also fare badly. The latest poll shows that 24 percent of those who left the unions in the last year did so because these organizations “did not do anything”, 19 percent because of “differences with other members”, and 14 percent because “they were not important”.

It is under these conditions that the recent mass demonstration must be put into context. The ruling class is depending ever more on the pseudo-left parties and social movements that organised Saturday’s protests to channel disgruntled workers and unemployed into empty protests. Most of these groups orbit the Communist Party-led IU, which is imposing cuts in collaboration with the PSOE in the regional government of Andalusia. In two years, the regional government has cut health care by 10.8 percent and education by 8.6 percent, totalling €2.6 billion.

MADRID MARCH: THOUSANDS OF ANTI-AUSTERITY PROTESTERS CONVERGE ON SPANISH CAPITAL

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by RT

Protesters clashed with police in Madrid as thousands of people trekked across Spain to protest austerity which they claim is destroying their country. Under the banner “no more cuts!” the protesters called for an end to the government’s “empty promises.”

Police arrested at least 29 protesters following the clashes which took place after the march. According to emergency service, 101 people were injured – 67 of them police, El Mundo newspaper reports.

Protesters were seen throwing stones and firecrackers at police. According to witnesses, officers used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

Clashes broke out during a final speech at the demonstration when protesters tried to break through a police barrier. Riot police took charge by beating protesters with batons, AP reported.

“The mass rally was coming to an an end when reportedly a group of younger protesters, who had masks on their faces, started throwing rocks at the police. Police tried to push them away from the parameter that they organized around this area,” RT’s Egor Piskunov reported from the Spanish capital.

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“They (police) tried to push them (protesters) away from these police fences and then we started seeing firecrackers being thrown at police and reportedly authorities started firing rubber bullets at the protesters. As a result, there are injuries on both sides and several people have been arrested as well.”

“I can confirm that there is very heavy police presence in this whole district. Since it is the center of Madrid, there are lots of luxury hotels in this part of town and security here is very tight,” he added.

Six “columns” of trains, cars and buses, as well as bands of pedestrians have travelled from Extremadura, Andalusia, Valencia, Murcia, Asturias, Galicia and Aragon, among other Spanish regions, to converge on Madrid in mass protest this Saturday. The demonstration itself has been dubbed 22-M, Marches for dignity.

Eight groups of activists are expected to move into the Spanish capital at different points throughout the course of the day. As a precautionary measure, the Madrid authorities have closed roads in the center of the city and asked people to use public transport whenever possible on Saturday. In addition, the Spanish authorities have deployed 1,650 riot police to keep the situation under control in Madrid.

The protest movement is demanding an end to the so-called Troika-style cuts in Spain, more jobs and affordable housing.

“Why am I here? I’m sick of this government. With all the promises they never fulfill. They said they were going to create more jobs and lower the taxes but it’s a lie! Instead, unemployment rose from 4 to 6 million. This is the only way we can fight back,” one of the protestors, who had been on the road since March 9, told RT correspondent Egor Piskunov.

A large proportion of the protesters who have made their way on foot to the Spanish capital are unemployed and plan to camp in Madrid until their demands are met.

“There are too many reasons: my sons have to work every day from 8 in the morning to five of the next morning only for 400 euros per month! Also I’m a teacher and I know what cuts in the public sector mean,” said another activist. “All these evictions – this is insane. I’m marching to Madrid because I can’t walk to Berlin or Brussels. We must stop them and the Troika!”

Hundreds of people are evicted from their homes every day in Spain. The General Council of the Judiciary reported that 49,984 forced evictions had been carried out across the country last year, which averages about 185 a day.

A fireman stands in front of demonstrators, some of them waving flags of the Spanish second republic, during a march dubbed "the Marches for Dignity 22-M" to protest against austerity in Madrid on March 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Gerard Julien)

A fireman stands in front of demonstrators, some of them waving flags of the Spanish second republic, during a march dubbed “the Marches for Dignity 22-M” to protest against austerity in Madrid on March 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Gerard Julien)

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The number of evictions reached an all-time high in Spain in 2012 with over 500 a day, according to a report by the BBC. This combined with an unemployment rate of 26 percent, the second highest in Europe after Greece, has left many Spanish citizens with nowhere to turn. This is reflected in the growing number of suicides in the country, with the country’s National Institute of Statistics estimating that at least 8 people take their lives every day in the country.

Pepe Caballero, one of the organizers of the protests said the Spanish government is trying to return Spain to the Franco era.

“What the government wants is to go back to the Franco years and keep the working class from demonstrating in the streets and saying what our main problems are. We won’t allow that to happen and they know it,” Caballero told RT, adding that the protest movement will change Spain from the “bottom to the top.”

At the beginning of this month, the Spanish Minister of Employment Fatima Banez said that Spain had finally pulled itself out of the recession and registered economic growth. However, the Spanish Union of Workers dismissed Banez’s announcements as “government propaganda.”

Anti-austerity demonstrators crowd into Colon square as they take part in a demonstration which organisers have labeled the "Marches of Dignity" in Madrid, March 22, 2014 (Reuters / Paul Hanna)

Anti-austerity demonstrators crowd into Colon square as they take part in a demonstration which organisers have labeled the “Marches of Dignity” in Madrid, March 22, 2014 (Reuters / Paul Hanna)

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DOZENS HURT IN SPAIN PROTEST CLASHES

Police and protesters injured in clashes as thousands rally in Madrid against EU-imposed austerity measures. Paul Chapman reports.

SPANISH SUICIDES RISE TO EIGHT-YEAR HIGH

Zero Hedge

Europe has an odd definition of recovery: we already knew that in Greece “recovery” means record high unemployment, an entire generation unable to find work, the return of neo-nazism, no ink with which to print tax forms, and even instances where people infect themselves with HIV to get medical benefits. That, and of course, soaring suicides. Now it is Spain’s turn.

A homeless Spaniard takes care of his three dogs, who were likely strays.  A long line of people can be see in the reflection on the window.  Credit: Fran Urbano via Flickr

A homeless Spaniard takes care of his three dogs, who were likely strays. A long line of people can be see in the window’s reflection. Credit: Fran Urbano via Flickr

While the Iberian nation is furiously scrambling to catch up to Greece in terms of sheer economic collapse, even if the government has changed the definition of GDP so many times, somehow Spain dares to look people in the eye and claim its GDP is growing with 26% total, and 54% youth unemployment, one statistic Spain can’t change is that the suicide rate has soared and is now the highest in eight years.

The Local reports, using figures from Spain’s National Institute of Statistics that in the most recent data from 2012, released on Friday, 402,950 people died in Spain, some 15,039 (3.9 percent) more than in 2011. Of these deaths, there were 3539 suicides (2,724 men and 815 women), up 11.3 percent from the year before, a rate of 7.6 per 100,000 inhabitants. The figures were the highest since 2005.

According to official broadcaster RTVE, suicide was second only to cancer (15 percent of deaths) in the overall 25-34 age group, but the leading cause of death in young men (17.8 percent). Fatalities as a result of traffic accidents fell by 9.5 percent, to 1,915 – that’s probably because so few young men and women can afford to buy a car. Or gas. Or both.

Finally in tangential news, a 21 percent spike in the death rate in February and March compared with the previous year was attributed to a late-breaking flu epidemic. The same period saw deaths as a result of respiratory failure rise 53.6 percent year-on-year.

So the next time you hear about the PIIGS much trumpeted “recovery” (which now is finished even before it started courtesy of the sharp relapse of the global economy courtesy of EMs, and in the case of Greece, quite literally based on the latest growth forecasts), think.

POPULAR SUPPORT FOR SPAIN’S MONARCHY PLUMMETS

By Alejandro López

According to recent polls, nearly two thirds of the Spanish population are in favour of King Juan Carlos abdicating. One poll in the daily El Mundo shows that, for the first time, fewer than half of the Spanish people (49.9 percent) want Spain to remain a constitutional monarchy—a drop of 4 percent since last year. Close to 70 percent said they thought the king was unable to restore the monarchy’s prestige.

The record-low support for Juan Carlos and the monarchy as an institution signifies the fact that the legitimacy of one of the key pillars in the post-Franco capitalist order is crumbling. Revolutionary changes are on the horizon.

Juan Carlos owes his position as head of state to the fascist dictator General Francisco Franco. His grandfather, King Alfonso XIII, was forced into exile following the start of the Spanish Revolution and the overthrow of the 1923-1930 dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera, with which Alfonso was closely associated.

The Second Republic, proclaimed in 1931, introduced modest democratic measures, but even these threatened the existence of capitalist private property. The Spanish ruling class reacted by conspiring to overthrow it, culminating in the July 18, 1936, coup d’état by Franco. The victorious fascist regime re-established the monarchy in Spain in 1947, and Franco appointed Juan Carlos as his heir apparent in 1969, closely supervising his training.

When Franco died in 1975, the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and Communist Party (PCE) connived with sections of the fascist National Movement to ensure Juan Carlos remained on the throne. They worked together to resuscitate the discredited monarchy and prevent a revolutionary reckoning with fascism during the transition to democracy.

The PCE and its trade union organisation, the Workers Commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CCOO), which had widespread influence in the working class, worked to demobilise the revolutionary sentiments of the working class in return for limited concessions laid out in the 1978 Moncloa Accords and Worker’s Statute. The newly installed monarch, Juan Carlos, was deemed “inviolable” and “not subject to any responsibility”—provisions enshrined in articles 56 and 64 of the current constitution.

Within a few years of the transition, on February 23, 1981, sections of the military attempted a coup d’état, during which Congress and the cabinet were held hostage for 18 hours. It failed, but a myth was propagated that Juan Carlos had personally intervened to prevent it. For more than 30 years, all the main political parties, the trade unions, the media, school textbooks and a number of historians have insisted that Juan Carlos “brought democracy” to Spain and “saved it.”

In February 2012, the German magazine Der Spiegel published communiqué 524, sent by the then German ambassador to Spain, revealing the “understanding if not even sympathy” of Juan Carlos for the coup organisers. The historian Julián Casanova described these revelations as “extraordinarily important” because “it is the only written proof to date that Juan Carlos might have secretly been nostalgic for the kind of military rule that Franco had taught him to appreciate.”

In April 2012, a couple of months after these revelations, the king was photographed in hunting gear beside an elephant he had shot on an €8,000-a-day safari trip in Botswana—refuting the official story that he had fallen and broken his hip while working hard in his office. The episode exposed the lies that everyone was “pulling together” as a result of the austerity measures imposed following the 2008 economic crisis.

The king has also been affected by the Nóos corruption case involving his daughter, Princess Cristina Federica de Borbón. Her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin, is accused along with his former business partner, Diego Torres, of tax fraud and siphoning money into offshore bank accounts and family companies, including the real estate agency Aizoon, co-owned by his wife.

Defence lawyers led by Miquel Roca—one of the architects of the 1978 Constitution—are claiming that Cristina had no knowledge of the goings-on and that Urdangarin is solely responsible.

Last week, the princess was named as a formal suspect in the case. Judge José Castro noted that she spent nearly €700,000 of Aizoon money on items such as dinnerware, trips, private dance lessons and the redecoration of a mansion in Barcelona.

The case is damaging the monarchy so much that every state institution has intervened in an attempt to protect the princess.

Last April, the Provincial Court of Palma de Mallorca blocked Castro’s attempts to summon the princess, arguing that there was no legal basis to call a daughter of the Spanish king into court. In November, the Treasury sent the judge a report on Aizoon arguing that the amount owed was only €281,109 in four years and below the threshold for prosecution. In December, the anti-corruption attorney Pedro Horrach published a written document stating that “he did not see any elements to implicate Cristina de Borbón.” The Royal Household has also put pressure on Castro, demanding he bring proceedings “to a timely conclusion.”

Such is the importance of the monarchy’s role as political “cement” holding together the Spanish state that the publicly funded Centre of Sociological Research (CIS) ended questions related to the king’s popularity in its regular surveys once the monarchy’s popularity fell below 5 out of 10 in 2011. After much pressure, the CIS reinstated the question in the May 2013 survey, only to find his popularity had plummeted to 3.7 out of 10. Since then, the question has, once again, been omitted.

OBAMA, RAJOY TALK ECONOMICS, SECURITY AT WHITE HOUSE

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 (UPI) — U.S. President Barack Obama, appearing at the White House with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, said he was looking forward to a trans-Atlantic trade pact.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office Monday after their bilateral meeting, Obama said he and Rajoy “have had occasion to work together on a wide range of international issues, and obviously the cooperation reflects the incredible alliance and friendship between our countries that has lasted for decades.”

“The economy had undergone some wrenching difficulties that existed throughout Europe and the eurozone, and I congratulated the prime minister on the progress that’s been made in stabilizing the economy, moving into growth, reducing the deficit, and being able to return to the financial markets in a way that reflects sound leadership,” Obama said.

“There are still enormous challenges that lie ahead with respect to bringing down unemployment and increasing growth. … And so we pledge to continue to cooperate closely to promote strategies for growth and job creation. One of those strategies is to put together a transatlantic trade agreement. We both agreed that there is enormous potential for increasing trade and growth between two of the largest economic actors in the world, but it will require intensive work and serious compromise on all sides, and the Prime Minister and I agreed that it’s well worth the effort.”

For his part, Rajoy noted progress in the eurozone and said there is “no longer talk about a bailout.”

“Risk premiums are down, and some eurozone countries are starting to grow and we’re starting to see some sort of solution to the problem of unemployment,” Rajoy said.

Obama also said the two leaders discussed security issues in Syria and Libya, as well as terrorism in general. He thanked Spain for hosting U.S. military operations and facilities, and pledged to improve “what is already a very strong defense relationship.”

Obama also reiterated his previous position that now is not the time for Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran, saying his preference is for “peace and diplomacy.”

BANK AND BARRICADES BASHED: SPANISH CITIZENS RALLY AGAINST COSTLY BOULEVARD PLAN

SPANISH WORKERS FACE YEARS OF MASS UNEMPLOYMENT

By Paul Mitchell

In a Christmas message, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy claimed that 2014 “will be a better year, with more economic activity and growth. Next year, when I stand before you again, fewer people will be jobless in Spain and more will be working.”

Rajoy acknowledged that “Since June 2007, the difference in the unemployment numbers for the corresponding month of the year before has been getting worse and worse and worse… But now, for the first time, in October this year, this trend changed, and there is less unemployment than a year ago. And in November, this trend has been maintained.”

Such claims are nonsensical. Rajoy based his declaration on miniscule improvements in the economic growth rate and unemployment figures. He predicted a 0.7 percent growth in 2014 after a 1.3 percent economic contraction in 2013 and pointed to the fact that some 2,500 fewer people registered as unemployed in November out of the country’s total of 4.8 million!

Rajoy’s optimism does not wash with Spain’s workers—as indicated by a video “No Job Land”, that spread like wildfire through social networks before he made his speech.

Around 26 percent of the working population are without jobs and among the young the figure rises to over 55 percent. Long-term unemployment (more than 12 months) has risen from 19 percent at the end of 2007 to over 50 percent of the unemployed at the end of 2013. Nearly 40 percent of the unemployed receive no benefits.

Those who are in work have seen their wages slashed by over 7 percent in real terms since 2010 and their jobs made more precarious. More than three million Spaniards are in “severe poverty,” surviving on less than €307 a month. The country has one of the biggest wealth gaps in Europe.

A December report from consultancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers suggests that Spain’s economy will not recover to pre-2008 crisis growth levels until 2033. Even if the economy grows about two percent a year, it will be nearly 20 years before unemployment reaches the seven percent figure of 2007. At a currently unimaginable 2.3 percent growth rate, unemployment won’t fall below 10 percent until 2024.

At the end of last year, the European Commission (EC) criticised Spain for its continuing “economic imbalances” having failed six out of 11 indicators of risk—the country’s real effective exchange rate, losses in export market shares, its net international investment position, high unemployment, public and private debt.

Public debt is nearly one trillion euros and is soon expected to exceed 100 percent of GDP, the highest level in over a decade, because of ongoing public deficits and the impact of the June 2012 €100 billion bank bailout. Private-sector debt is around 200 percent of GDP. Speaking to the Financial Times, Juan Rubio-Ramírez, professor of economics at Duke University, warned, “You are in uncharted territory here…When your debt is above 100 percent of GDP, it is very easy to come up with scenarios where debt really explodes.”

The EC also warned Spain that it “falls short of the efforts recommended by the European Council, especially for 2014” in reducing its deficit-reduction targets, which have already been relaxed by two years. In 2010, the target was 10 percent of GDP, in 2013 approximately 6.5 and in 2014, 5.8 percent. The target for 2015 is 4.2 percent of GDP and in 2016 it is 2.8 percent.

The EC said tax rises and spending cuts made since 2010 have been insufficient to cut the deficit and demanded “further budget measures worth 35 billion euros to bring the shortfall in its finances back within the EU ceiling of 3 percent of GDP.”

The EC makes no comment on its own responsibility for the crisis as a member of the troika along with the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, which has dictated economic policy to Spain over the last several years.

The EC told the Spanish government that it would not impose sanctions for its imbalances, including a fine of 0.1 percent of GDP, but it would be reviewing the effectiveness of its reforms of the labour market laws and pensions.

The labour market reforms over the last two years and the growth in exports have been held up as the panacea for Spain’s economic woes. Economy Minister Luis de Guindos made it clear the target was the impoverishment of the working class, declaring, “The [current] gain in competitiveness has been obtained not through currency devaluation but through internal devaluation, through a process of lowering unit labour costs” by making it easier and cheaper to fire workers and replacing national and sectoral collective bargaining agreements with factory level ones.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) welcomed this assault, declaring in its “Review of the 2012 Labour Market Reform” last month that the reforms were a “significant step in the right direction… But further efforts…are still needed.” The OECD complained that Spain’s redundancy pay schemes were still too generous and have to be reduced, particularly in large companies.

The Popular Party government tried to sweeten the bitter pill of the labour reforms by claiming they would lead to greater job security, but only 7.6 percent of the jobs created in November were permanent contracts. In a year, there has been a loss of 298,000 permanent jobs and temporary contracts have increased up to 849,650, a third of which are part-time.

Until now, Spain’s meagre recovery has been driven almost exclusively by rising exports, mainly in the automobile sector where Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen and Renault have upgraded their factories in Spain and transferred production from other countries such as Korea.

However, former Merill Lynch MD and Spanish government adviser César Molinas warns, “Companies are making a huge effort to export, mainly because they cannot sell any cars in Spain. This phenomenon has become known as deportation, rather than exportation; cars are being sold abroad sometimes at cost prices, simply to reduce losses.”

Other economists are warning that exports are a fragile basis for recovery, given stagnant domestic demand. Retail sales are still one quarter lower than they were before the 2008 economic crisis.

Mario Armero, the vice-president of Anfac, the Spanish car lobby, explained, “Spain has become more competitive in the last five years. There has been wage moderation and in some cases wage decreases. And the flexibility is now much higher than in other sectors.”

New employees at Ford’s Valencia plant, for example, receive 16 percent less pay than older ones and have been employed on temporary contracts. Until recently nearly all car industry contracts were permanent.

The federal secretary of Spain’s MCA-UGT metal workers’ union, Mariano Cerezo, declared, “We are not afraid to make sacrifices as long as we can maintain jobs and secure pledges to create more work in the future.”

Although some 2,500 new jobs were created in the automobile sector last year, some 100,000 jobs were lost in the industrial sector as a whole.

On January 1, a pension reform came into force that progressively cuts payments to Spain’s nine million pensioners. The automatic increasing of pensions in line with inflation will stop and they will be calculated according to a new “sustainability factor” linking them to life expectancy. The longer people live, the smaller the monthly payment will be.

According to IESE business school professor Javier Díaz-Giménez, the real value of a €1,000 monthly pension could fall to less than €500 by 2050 under the new rules. A wide-ranging reform of Spain’s tax system is planned for early this year.

THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CRISIS IN SPAIN. “THEY WANT TO MAKE POVERTY NORMAL”

By Esther Vivas | Global Research

We have entered 2014 a little poorer. For those of us with a job, our salaries have been frozen, or even cut; only a few can expect a rise in the New Year.  Furthermore, the price of electricity, public transport and water are increasing.

2013 ended with the controversy over a threatened increase in electricity bills by 11%, leaving Spaniards paying well above the European average and Spain ranking the third most expensive electricity in Europe. So, Mariano Rajoy’s  Popular Party (PP) government intervened and stopped this rise by decree. As you can see, if the PP wants to, it can intervene. But overall, there is little willingness to confront the interests of multinationals. For now, the government has limited the rise to  2.3%, and we are expected to be thankful.

The rising price of public transport is another traditional New Year scam. Train tickets, are up nearly 2%, and in Barcelona, ??not to be outdone, the fare raises on the subway are an abusive 5% with the most popular travelcard, the T-10. However, if you usually take the high speed train (AVE) , which is only used by a minority of citizens, do not worry, because the price has been frozen . Lucky too, are the drivers who use the highways from Castelldefels to Sitges and Montgat to Mataro, where the tolls have been  reduced by 30% and 10% respectively, provided they use teletac card, the automatic payment system.  Lower the cost of private transport and increase the cost of public transport – that’s the approach of Catalonia’s [right-wing nationalist] CiU government.

And in Barcelona, we face further rises, for water too, even if money appears to be in plentiful supply, especially for the city council, as we saw with the celebrations on New Year’s Eve at the Montjuïc fountain. The tourists are happy at least. But for the rest of us, water bills will be going up by 8.5 % on average in the metropolitan area of Barcelona, thanks to the votes of CiU and [Catalan Socialists] PSC, and the abstention of the [left nationalists] ERC. In the end, those who criticise the cuts are the first to sharpen the scissors. We will not forget.

Meanwhile, the minimum wage remains frozen, as was the case last year, leaving it at a meagre 645 euros per month, while public sector workers  remain on the wages they received in 2010. Pensions of those ten million retirees who worked all their lives, will see their incomes hit by a change in indexation that means rise are tied to below inflation (CPI ); this year they will rise by just 0.25% , the minimum set by the Government . An increase that will barely buy a cup of coffee.

We enter this 2014, a little poorer. Our purchasing power slowly falls. Every year that passes we have less. They want to make poverty normal. Do you remember those stories, not so long ago, of those struggling on 1000 euros a month? The new precariat. Today an employer offering a job paying a thousand euros monthly would be swamped by curriculums . And yet some, like the Prime Minister, dare to say that 2014 brings ” the beginning of the recovery.” What a bunch of thieves and liars.

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