Spanish premier -- under fire -- moves adroitly to undercut critics
Madrid — Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez, who tried to arrest his falling popularity recently with a Cabinet shake-up, has now put his new government's credibility on the line -- and survived the crucial test.
By 180 votes to 164 the prime minister succeeded over the weekend in turning back a vote of confidence that he himself had called.
The vote, which sought to put parliament's stamp of approval on his new Cabinet (announced Sept. 9) was taken after prolonged debates in which the government linked the confidence motion to a series of new economic and political proposals.
the proposals include plans to put new life into the Spanish economy, which is running at negative growth rates, and to relieve unemployment, which is affecting more than 11 percent of the active population, or more people than in any other Western nation.
The main novelties on the political front were a promise that Spain's backward southern region, Andalusia, wil be singled out for special economic attention. The region is also going to be given the same degree of regional autonomy as that granted the northwestern Basque country and northeastern Catalonia last year.
These promises provided Mr. Suarez with the last-minute support of the Andalusian party. Together with a previous pact established with the Catalan nationalists this meant that Mr. Suarez's minority government had the vote in the bag.
The new economic proposals are:
1. To reach an optimistic growth target of 4 percent by 1983.
2. To relieve unemployment by means of a big increase in public investment, especially in agriculture, rural housing, transport, and services aimed at creating up to half a million new jobs by 1983. This increase in public investment is expected to be covered by new tax measures and by cuts in government expenditure, especially in defense.
3. To press ahead with the government's delayed 1975-1983 national energy plan aimed at reducing Spain's heavy dependence on oil imports and at a developing alternative sources of energy (for instance, nuclear energy and coal). The vital importance of this program is demonstrated by the fact that this year Spain's oil import bill is expected to total more than $12 billion -- double that of last year.
4. To press ahead with liberalization measures aimed at preparing Spain for entry into the European Community.
These proposals are good news for those who are at the lowest end of Spain's unemployment scale -- the landless farm laborers in the southern region of Andalusia who at best manage to find temporary work for only three months of the year on the large underexploited private estates. For these people the promise of housing programs, and new schools, hospitals and roads, could well mean a job lasting 12 months of the year.
For its part, the government blames the current economic crisis on two fundamental problems: the sharp rise in the cost of oil imports, and the difficulty of trying to cope with Spain's worst recession in decades at the same time that structural reforms have to be introduced to pave the way for entry into the European Community.