by Staff Reporter
BALEARIC leader Jaume Matas yesterday made an offer to Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero: that the regional government would pay the difference so that the 50 percent discount on air fares for residents could come into force on January 1, 2005.

Earlier in the week Zapatero, who has been holidaying in Minorca with his family, said that the discount on inter-island flights and flights to the Peninsula would be increased from 33 to 38 percent on January 1.

Matas made his offer to Zapatero at a brief meeting at Mahon airport, prior to the Prime Minister's departure for Madrid, where he is to preside a Cabinet meeting today.

One of the matters which will be discussed by the Cabinet is the sensitive issue of Sunday opening and the new calendar governing this.
On his return to Palma, Matas said that Zapatero had promised to study the proposal and find a solution to the problem of air transport in the Balearics which would be satisfactory to all parties.

Matas said that his government was prepared to advance the funds so that the 50 percent discount could be introduced immediately and would do so until the central government could assume the cost and return the advance.

He said there was no time limit but his government was prepared to assume the cost until the central administration “overcame the financial difficulties which prevent it from raising the discount beyond 38 percent.” He admitted he did not know how much it would cost, because it would depend on the length of time, but added that “the benefit it represents for citizens of the island is much bigger.” Matas said that he also asked for the flights to the Peninsula to be classified as a public service, and was told that this proposal would also be analysed.

He added that unlike the previous Balearic government (the socialist coalition), his government considered “everything which comes from the central government is positive.” They also discussed the matter of desalination plants, and Matas asked Zapatero to keep the central ministry of the environment's promise to build four new desalination plants in the Balearics and not divert the funds to the Peninsula.

Two of the plants would be built in Majorca, one in Minorca and one in Ibiza.
The meeting had been a brief one, and Matas said that this was because of problems of “agenda and security”, but said that he hoped in the future a lengthier meeting could be arranged.

He commented that during the interview, he had invited Zapatero and his family to return to Minorca next summer.

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