Friday, May 3, 2013

Budgets are not for the cynical, by Oriol Junqueras

by Oriol Junqueras, President of ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia), originally published in El Periódico, on May 2, 2013

In the last few days, weeks and months, we have seen how stubbornly, once and again, political and media players have insistently demanded that the Catalan Government present its budget. Even some sectors within the Government's own party have participated in this discourse as if they didn't realize the actual significance of presenting and approving a budget that is wholly determined by the Spanish Government and that which obliges us to make cuts that are absolutely untenable.

The thing is, the only budget that could be presented now would be subect to the current deficit ceiling, the one that supposes bigger cuts to Catalonia than that which have been made in Greece or Portugal. It's not an exaggeration, it is that brutal. And those who would still ask that the budget be presented know perfectly well the devastating affects that such budget cuts would have on Catalan society. We're talking about 4.8 billion euros (3.8 billion in the best case scenario), a figure that is higher than the combined cuts of the last two years.

In addition, it's not that Catalonia has spent beyond its means, on the contrary. Our country generates 36 billion euros in tax revenues (without counting Social Security) but the Catalan Government only disposes of 19 billion for its budget. This is the true source of our problem. And so, while Greece will cut 11.5% in 2013, the Spanish Government will condemn Catalonia to cuts of 15%. Cutting 4.8 billion out of the budget is equivalent to closing the principal Catalan universities, the country's principal hospitals, laying off all the Mossos d'Esquadra [local police force], all of the fire fighters, closing TV3, Catalunya Ràdio, the entire Catalan Parliament... and even then, we would still have to cut 1 Billion euros more. I repeat: untenable.

And the PP [Partido Popular] and PSC [Partit Socialista de Catalunya], among others, know it full well. But even though they know it, they have continued to compulsively ask for the budget to be presented under these conditions. Why? Well, to cut to the chase, it's a partisan play, deaf to the plight of the people. For some, it's a question of blind subordination to the Spanish Government. For others, it's paradoxically the impatience to get behind the placard against the budget cuts. And such an attitude can only be qualified as cynical.

That's why it's so necessary to speak clearly, to make sure that people understand what is going on. The economic and social situation is dramatic and the Spanish Government does nothing more than make it worse with a deliberate policy of asphyxiating the Catalan treasury. Brussels determines the deficit ceiling for the Spanish State, but it is Madrid which, against the EU's recommendation, out of a debt limit of 4.5%, reserves for Catalonia only 0.7% (or 1.2% according to the latest estimate), despite the fact that it is the Government of Catalonia that is responsible for all of the cost of healthcare, education, and social services.

Actually, though, the deeper problem, the structural problem, is that the taxes that we Catalans pay don't stay in Catalonia. And we are obliged to fall into debt when, the truth is, we wouldn't have to go into debt if we didn't suffer the fiscal plunder and the flagrant and repeated breach of commitments of successive Spanish Governments. That is, we could accept a deficit ceiling of 0% if we collected and managed our own tax receipts. Or explained another way, no matter how much they raise the debt ceiling, if we don't control our own income, we will never escape the circle of debt and treasury tension of which we are prisoners.

When the latest data on the active workforce reveals that there are now more than 900,000 Catalans on unemployment, and that one out of every four people of working age has no job, accepting this budget would be incredibly irresponsible. With every passing day, Europe is more aware of the craziness of choking the Catalan economy, which generates one quarter of the fiscal income of the Spanish State. For that reason, we will continue to do what we need to do, with the conviction that each day there will be more people who understand why.

The country is at the brink. And faced with that, only two strategies make sense in the short term. One is that which is sold by those who are pressuring the Catalan Government to immediately execute Spanish Finance Minister Montoro's disastrous and devastating budget. A second option is to translate the pressure to the Spanish Government (which has exclusive and discretionary control over our resources) in order to demand fair fiscal and economic treatment for Catalonia. The dilemma is clear enough. We can be at the service of the needs of the Catalan people or we can play into the hands of the PP Government. We, at the very least, know what we need to do and no one will make us change course.

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