by Staff Reporter

FRANCESC Antich, the new Socialist leader of the Balearic Islands, met with Spain's prime minister, José Luís Rodriguez Zapatero, in Palma at the end of last week to discuss and analyse the financing of the new Balearic statute, a move which will enable the region to operate on a similar platform to the rest of Spain.

The prime minister, on a traditional August visit to the royal family at their holiday residence on Majorca, promised Antich greater funding for the Islands.

Francesc Antich was asked in an interview:
How do you propose to deal with the debt inherited by your government from the previous Administration?
The first thing is to find out exactly what the accounting package is and analyse it. A list of priorities will have to be made and more debt will have to be taken on by way of investment. Our Economy minister is working on the best way to use the funding.

Would you say that the government of the previous Balearic leader, Jaume Matas, has mortgaged the future of the Balearic Islands?
I'd say that the previous ruling coalition has left a large deficit in the region's Treasury. With a negative balance of 2'700 million euros, I can't really say that management of the Economy has been all that good. Money has been spent on issues which weren't priorities, and money has been lost through the conflicts that Matas, of the centre-right Partido Popular, had with the central Socialist government in Madrid.

The Balearic government has put a stop to works on the new hospital planned for construction at Son Espases. What's going to happen?
Putting the works on hold was part of the commitment of my new government. We were looking to set up a new hospital on the same spot as the present Son Dureta hospital but we're now faced with changing realities. The contract has already been awarded, there are conflicts over the land and if we in fact do decide to cancel the Son Espases project altogether, the promoter will want payment. There are a great many things to be taken into consideration but what we have to focus on is a high standard of public health for the people of the Balearics. We're also looking at how to maximise the potential of all existing healthcare services in operation in the Islands.

What is your policy going to be towards tri-lingual education?
We announced our support for tri-lingualism last year but we are not in agreement with the law as it actually stands. If we are to apply the policy of the use of Castillian, Catalan and English in education, we've got to make sure that students have equal opportunity within this system. The law is functioning on a voluntary basis at the moment - for some schools, it would be impossible to operate a tri-lingual system at this stage. There are plenty of deficiencies so we need to give eduction the “shock” treatment with higher investment and solutions to basic educational needs.

Are you going to further plans for railway development around the Island?
We're looking to set aside funding in the next budget for the train service, with the priority being Alcudia. One of things that I want to talk to central government about is that with even with the small sum of 3 to 4 million euros, we could get the ball rolling now. In the future, we want to sign a pledge with central government about railway development in the region so that lines extend to other parts of the Island.

What's going to happen with the green card? (A voluntary purchase for tourists and residents where funds went to conservation projects.)
So far as I can see, the project never really got off the ground or had a major impact. But the future of the card will be up to my minister for Tourism. I think the Partido Popular would agree that what has to be addressed now is what Island territory is to be set aside for touristic development.

Will there be a regional police force?
We have to speak with central government, but in any event, it's going to be a slow and complicated process. I think our own police force would not be akin to the one already operating in Catalonia, for example. A central government debate will produce the best solution for us here.

Are you sorry that political issues such as those surrounding the Royal Family have arisen?
We don't need to put such matters on our agenda here and I get quite annoyed by them. I'm surprised that the comments made by the Youth Movement of the Catalan Republican Party can capture front page space in the Press. I'm quite satisfied that most people are happy to have the Royal Family here for their holidays on Majorca. It's an honour for us.

What do you think your relationship will be like with the only party in Opposition? (Partido Popular)
It's a bit soon to make predictions but the first meetings of the Balearic Parliament have been a bit like the end of the electoral campaign. Debate based on ill feeling and conflict doesn't serve society. A strong Opposition party is needed but it must have a vision for society as a whole. At the moment it seems that the Partido Popular are more interested in who is going to win next year's national elections than what is going on at a regional level.