By Tim Fanning

MADRID
THE Government yesterday criticised the proposal made by the leader of the PP, Mariano Rajoy, that he intends to make immigrants learn Spanish and respect Spanish customs if he wins power in next month's General Election.

The PP leader added that he would throw immigrant delinquents out of the country regardless of whether they had a resident's permit or not and push through deals to prevent them returning to the EU.

On Wednesday, the PP leader said that if he won the election on March 9 he would create a “contract of integration” for all immigrants applying for a resident permit in the state for more than a year. The contract would have the force of the law, Rajoy added.

Rajoy said immigrants would agree to “obey the law, respect Spanish customs, learn the language, pay their taxes” and work to “actively integrate themselves” into Spanish society. He added that should they fail to find employment after a certain period of time they would return to their country of origin.

In exchange, said Rajoy, Spanish society would grant immigrants the same rights and benefits as the Spaniard, would teach them the language, would help them integrate and respect their beliefs and customs as long as they were not contrary to Spanish law.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Maria Teresa Fernández de la Vega, described Rajoy's proposed “contract of integration” as “political opportunism”. She said that “when immigrants are seen as a threat it sows distrust and generates cultural ignorance that only drives racism and xenophobia”. “Again we see the political opportunism of the Partido Popular, with some of their leaders only seeing threats and trying to sow mistrust and suspicion.” The Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, during an interview on Punto Radio yesterday, asked what the Spanish hierarchy thought of Rajoy's remarks.

The Government has been critical of the bishops since they intervened in the electoral campaign, calling on Catholics to vote for parties that had not negotiated with ETA.

Traditionally, the PP, which is close to the Catholic Church, is seen as taking a harder line when it comes to talking to the Basque terrorist group.
But the Government has accused the hierarchy of using the question of terrorism to promote its own interests and attack a Government it dislikes for introducing legislation it believes is contrary to Catholic social teaching. “I don't know what some of the bishops would think of the things proposed by Mr Rajoy in relation to immigration,” said Zapatero.
An anti-racism organisation also criticised Rajoy's proposals. A spokeswoman for SOS Racism, Begoña Sanchez, described Rajoy's proposal as “totally xenophobic”.

She accused the PP of “demagoguery” in relation to the issue of immigration. She said that Rajoy's proposal “reinforced the idea of them and us”.
Sanchez asked the political parties not to make “electoral use” out of immigration during the campaign and to behave responsibly when drawing up slogans and promises.

However, Miguel Arias Cañete, the PP spokesman on the Economy and Employment, defended his leader's proposals yesterday.
He said “we have the right” to ask immigrants to integrate and if they don't achieve this, to return “voluntarily” to their own countries. Cañete said that 10 percent of the population was from abroad and that immigrants had helped develop the economy. He added that 48 percent of jobs created during the current legislature had been occupied by foreign workers.

But he pointed that the majority of these positions had been filled by workers with few qualifications, little training and on very low salaries. He said they had not helped increase productivity nor the “stability” of the social services system.

He said that immigration had to be ordered. He stated that there were two types of immigrants: those who came to earn money and then brought it back to their own countries, “like we did ourselves at another time”; and those who stayed forever in Spain.

Cañete said those who stayed had to integrate in a deeper way because “conflict arose where there is no integration”.