January 14, 2019 / 10:46 AM / a year ago

Spain earmarks more funds for Catalonia as PM seeks votes for budget

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s Socialist government on Monday proposed a sharp rise in spending for Catalonia in its 2019 budget draft, which will need the support of pro-independence parties in the region to pass through parliament.

Spain's Treasury Minister Maria Jesus Montero and Spanish Parliament chairman Ana Pastor pose during the presentation of the 2019 draft budget proposal at Parliament in Madrid, Spain, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Juan Medina

The fiscal plan is Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s biggest legislative test since his minority administration took office last June, and he has not ruled out calling a snap national election if lawmakers reject it.

His party holds just 88 seats in Spain’s 350-seat parliament.

In the draft, the government proposed increasing funding for Catalonia to 16.8 percent of total regional spending from last year’s 13.1 percent.

The region, which has clashed with Madrid over its drive for independence, will receive just over 2 billion euros (1.78 billion pounds) from central government plus another 200 million euros for infrastructure, the document showed.

That would put Catalonia ahead of Andalusia, the most populous of Spain’s 17 regions, as the single largest beneficiary of funds from Madrid.

The Socialists ceded control of Andalusia in December in an election that ushered in a coalition of the conservative People’s Party (PP) and centre-right Ciudadanos, supported by the far-right Vox party.

The PP and Ciudadanos are expected to vote against Sanchez’s budget while left-wing Podemos and Basque lawmakers have said they will back it.


Catalonia’s pro-independence parties ERC and PdeCAT said they would vote against the draft unless they secured concessions on their independence drive and freedom for political prisoners.

“... we are a political party that has always called for dialogue and we call again for (the government)... to make a political offer,” PDeCat leader David Bonvehi told reporters.

The budget talks with Catalonia were due to begin on Monday and Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero said they were likely to be protracted.

“Sometimes they surprise us with a favourable stance, sometimes an unfavourable one. We’ll have to wait until the last moment before the (parliamentary) vote,” she said.

Analysts say the government risks upsetting voters in other regions if it gives too much to the Catalans.

Slideshow (3 Images)

Ciudadanos general secretary Jose Manuel Villegas called the draft “a gift for the separatists (and) ...bad for Spain..”

The government said last Friday it would boost social spending this year while cutting the budget deficit to 1.3 percent of national output from an estimated 2.7 percent in 2018.

Montero said the deficit would end this year at between 2.2 and 2.4 percent if the budget was rejected.

Writing by Paul Day and Andrei Khalip; editing by John Stonestreet and Gareth Jones

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