Spain Cabinet to Seek Extension of State of Emergency

Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) — Spain’s government will hold an extraordinary Cabinet meeting today to seek an extension to the state of emergency adopted on Dec. 4 after air traffic controllers walked off the job.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will chair the meeting at 7 p.m. in Madrid, his office said in a text message. Ministers plan to back the request for an extension, which then has to be approved by parliament, said an official at the prime minister’s office who declined to be named in line with policy.

Zapatero’s Socialist government, facing an escalation of the debt crisis and popular opposition to the deepest austerity measures in at least three decades, this month declared the first state of emergency since the country’s return to democracy in 1978, putting air-traffic controllers under military rule and discipline. The controllers’ average salary has been reduced by around 40 percent to 200,000 euros ($269,340) as the government prepares to sell part of the state-owned airport operator.

The government’s response to the air-traffic walkout comes after it faced down the first general strike in eight years in September. It risks further strikes from pilots and workers at the national lottery, which is also slated for a partial sale as part of the government’s plans to slash the euro region’s third- largest budget deficit by half in two years.

National unions, which Zapatero used to count among his allies, are also threatening further action ahead of a pension overhaul slated for January.

Poll Slump

Zapatero’s poll ratings have slumped as the sovereign debt crisis forced the government to slash public wages, freeze pensions and ax a subsidy for the long-term unemployed. The ruling Socialists would win 24.3 percent of the vote if elections were held now, compared with 43.1 percent for the People’s Party, according to a poll carried out before the strike and published on Dec. 5 by newspaper El Pais.

Air-traffic controllers, whose hours have been extended along with the pay-cut, were paid an average 334,000 euros in 2008, Infrastructure Minister Blanco told Spain’s Parliament in January. Their new average salary is still more than twice the prime minister’s annual wage of 78,185 euros, according to the 2011 budget law.

Spain’s constitution allows for three types of state of emergency and the government used the least severe one on Dec. 4. The decree lasts two weeks and its extension has to be approved by Parliament.

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