Brussels casts doubt on Spain’s deficit plans

The European Commission announced on Friday that it believed Spain would fall short of the deficit targets set by the ruling Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy for 2013 and 2014.

Brussels casts doubt on Spain's deficit plans
The European Commision's Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn presents the Commission's spring economic forecast on Friday. Photo: George Gobet/AFP

Speaking at press conference on Friday to unveil the Commission's Spring Economic Forecast, Commission Vice-President for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro Olli Rehn said Spain would be given two more years, or until 2016, to bring the country's public deficit under the European Union's three-percent limit.

Deficit is a crucial measure of financial stability.

The Commission said, however, that Spain's deficit would be higher than the forecasts of the Spanish government in 2013 and 2104.

Rajoy's government have stated that the deficit will be 6.3 percent in 2013 and 7 percent in 2014.

The forecasts from Brussels, however, have these figures at 6.5 percent this year and 7 percent next year.

Brussels also revised down Spain's 'growth' target for 2013.

The Spanish government predicted in February the country's economy would shrink 1.3 percent this year and are now looking at revising this down to 1.4 percent. The European Commission, meanwhile, says this contraction will be 1.5 percent.

The European Commission and the Spanish government do concur on unemployment levels though. Both parties agree the jobless rate will be around 27 percent in 2013 before dropping to close to 26.5 percent in the coming year.

During Friday's press conference, Brussels also announced GDP growth in 2013 was now forecast at -0.1% in the EU and at -0.4% in the eurozone area.

For 2014, economic activity is expected to grow by 1.4% in the EU and 1.2 % in the eurozone area.

Rehn said: "In view of the protracted recession, we must do whatever it takes to overcome the unemployment crisis in Europe. The EU’s policy mix is focused on sustainable growth and job creation. Fiscal consolidation is continuing, but its pace is slowing down. In parallel, structural reforms must be intensified to unlock growth in Europe."

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Catalan leader accuses Spain of ‘worst attack’ since Franco

Catalonia's leader accused Madrid on Saturday of waging the "worst attack" on his region since dictator Francisco Franco after the central government took drastic measures to stop it from breaking away.

Catalan leader accuses Spain of 'worst attack' since Franco
Pro-independence demonstrators in Barcelona on October 21st 2017. Photo: AFP

In a televised announcement, Carles Puigdemont said Madrid was failing to respect the rule of law after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced he would move to dismiss Catalonia's separatist executive, take control of regional ministries and call elections. The premier said he had no other choice faced with the threat to national unity.

Puigdemont said the measures were “incompatible with a democratic attitude and do not respect the rule of law,” calling on the regional parliament to meet over the crisis.

He accused the Spanish government, which still has to get approval from the Senate to implement the measures, of waging “the worst attack on institutions and Catalan people since the decrees of military dictator Francisco Franco abolishing the Catalan government”.

Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist from 1939 to his death in 1975, and among other repressive measures took Catalonia's powers away and officially banned the Catalan language.

Cautious, though, Puigdemont did not once say the word “independence” as Spain and the rest of the EU waits to see if he declares a unilateral break from Spain after the region held a banned independence referendum on October 1st.

Carles Puigdemont. Photo: AFP

Puigdemont delivered most of his short speech in Catalan, but also switched to Spanish and English.

In Spanish, he accused Madrid of “attacking democracy”.

And in English, he said European values were at risk.

“Democratically deciding the future of a nation is not a crime,” he said.

Led by Puigdemont, 450,000 supporters of independence protested in Barcelona on Saturday, shouting “freedom” and “independence” after Madrid announced drastic measures to stop the region from breaking away.

“It's time to declare independence,” said Jordi Balta, a 28-year-old stationery shop employee, adding there was no longer any room for dialogue.

The protest in the centre of the Catalan capital had initially been called to push for the release of the leaders of two hugely influential grassroots independence organisations, accused of sedition and jailed pending further investigation.

But it took on an even angrier tone after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced his government would move to dismiss the region's separatist government, take control of its ministries and call fresh elections in Catalonia.

Municipal police said 450,000 people rallied on Barcelona's large Paseo de Gracia boulevard, spilling over on to nearby streets, many holding Catalonia's yellow, red and blue Estelada separatist flag.

READ ALSO: Spain to dismiss Catalonia's government, call elections