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Europe
Spain approves austerity measures
Unpopular bill passed by one vote, saving Zapatero's government from embarrassment.
Last Modified: 27 May 2010 14:37 GMT
Spain, once Europe's top job creator, now  has its highest unemployment rate  [AFP]

Spain's parliament has approved an $18bn austerity package by just one vote, narrowly avoiding what could have been an embarrassing defeat for the government.

The bill, which includes a pay cut for civil servants, was passed with 169 votes in favour and 168 against on Thursday.

A defeat would have been a serious blow for the Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the prime minister, as it attempts to prove it can handle Spain's mounting debt crisis.

Some commentators had said it would have been difficult to imagine how Zapatero would have been able to stay in government had he lost the vote, which would have sent shockwaves through markets.

The bill was only saved when 10 deputies from the centre-right Catalan nationalists (CiU) abstained, saying they did not want Spain to be plunged into a Greek-style crisis.

'Insufficient and unjust'

Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, CiU secretary general, called for "responsibility" from his members in not voting against the bill, but also criticised Zapatero and urged him to call new elections.

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"Everyone knows what would happen if the government had not been able to pass the bill," he said.

"The stock market would plunge and our debt would be hit. Our responsibility is to ensure that Spain does not fall into a deeper [hole]. I don't want Spain to come under protection like Greece."

The opposition Popular Party, which voted against the bill, said the measures were "improvised, insufficient and unjust".

"My parliamentary group is not going to help you, the main problem of Spanish economy, to continue," Mariano Rajoy, head of the party, told Zapatero.

But Elena Salgado, Spain's finance minister, had said the cuts were "painful but inevitable".

Spain is coming under increasing pressure to introduce financial reforms to cut its large deficit from 11.2 per cent of gross domestic product in 2009 to within the EU limit of three per cent by 2013.

The new package is also aimed at trying to halt market speculation that the debt crisis affecting Greece might spread to countries like Spain or Portugal.

Fearing default, bond markets have begun demanding higher interest rates from troubled governments, with Greece shut out of the borrowing market
and forced to take a $146m from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The eurozone has also agreed on a $1 trillion loan backstop for other troubled countries if they need it.

European cuts

Countries across Europe, including Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, and non-euro member Britain have announced spending cuts and tax increases to maintain public confidence in their ability to manage their finances.

Rainer Bruederle, Germany's economy minister, welcomed the approval of the Spanish package.

"We can only achieve long-term stability of the euro if every member state of the European currency union makes its contribution through structural measures," he said.

The German government is currently mulling measures to cut its own spending.

Europe's top job creator two years ago, Spain now has the region's highest unemployment rate at just over 20 per cent and is the slowest of the major
economies to emerge from the recession.

Source:
Agencies
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