Spain's parliament calls time on subsidised cocktails

MADRID Tue Jun 4, 2013 4:31pm BST

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MADRID (Reuters) - A refreshing gin and tonic may have been just what Spanish members of parliament needed after sessions grappling with unemployment, street protests, a sinking economy and other problems.

But the subsidised cocktails at the parliament's cafeterias stirred up outrage amongst the suffering Spanish public,

So the heads of political parties agreed on Tuesday to take them off the menu.

Fixed low prices had meant MPs could enjoy a gin and tonic for 3.45 euros (2.95 pounds) - about half the price as at a regular bar.

The issue surfaced when parliament began to take bids from catering companies to run the cafeterias that had to guarantee services including a 9-euro lunch menu and cheap gin and tonics.

"There's no money for school lunches, but there is for gin," Maite Estrada Salvador wrote in a letter to El Pais newspaper last week.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government has raised taxes and cut back on spending on schools and hospitals to plug a huge budget hole. Meanwhile, a series of corruption scandals have hit his credibility and polls show that politicians have the worst public image of any institution in Spain, with a disapproval rating of 93 percent.

Alfonso Alonso, leader of the ruling People's Party in parliament, said the flap over the gin and tonics had given MPs a frivolous image.

"It makes citizens upset, and they are right, so the leadership has decided to change it," he told reporters.

The good news for the MPs is that other fixed prices in parliamentary cafeterias will stay - including a 0.95 euro glass of beer, compared to 1.5-2 euros in a bar.

(Additional reporting by Edgar Aribau; Editing by Julien Toyer and Angus MacSwan)

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