By Humphrey Carter

WITH less than four weeks to go until the general elections in Spain, the opposition Partido Popular are gradually gaining ground on the ruling PSOE Socialist Party with its stance on immigration and yesterday, the Balearic PP challenged president Francesc Antich over where he stands on immigration in the islands.

The leader of the Balearic Partido Popular, Rose Estaras announced that there are an estimated 70'000 illegal immigrants in the Balearics and asked Antich how he intends to tackle the problem.

Estaras accused Antich of failing to have a clear immigration policy and that the Balearic government's “incompetence” has only made the situation worse.

The leader of the opposition also claimed that, after the United States, Spain receives the second highest number of immigrants in the world and blamed the Socialist government for not dealing with the problem of illegal immigration. “There is no united policy and each autonomous region is left to make its own decisions,” she told parliament during a lively session yesterday. “On the one hand, some Socialists are calling for papers for everyone and on the other, some are calling for all the Chinese shops to be closed down,” Estaras claimed. President Antich replied by explaining that he does not favour a “paperwork for all” policy, but he added that he neither approved of the Partido Popular's recently unveiled hard line of immigrant contracts.

He said that he fully supports the immigration policy of the Spanish government and that neither the Balearic nor the Spanish governments will ever be able to stop immigration. “While there's work and hope, there will always be immigration,” he said. “However, here in the Balearics, immigrants are now paying the price for the ‘speculative economic policies' of the former PP government,” Antich added.

What the Balearic president appeared to have forgotten to remind Estaras was that it was his predecessor, the Partido Popular President Jaume Matas, who made a public plea for more immigrant workers to come to the Balearics.

Matas once claimed that without them, the Balearic economy would not be able to maintain its high growth rate.
According to Antich, under Jose Maria Aznar's conservative government, 700'000 immigrants entered Spain “but the government spent hardly any money on helping them integrate.” And, last week, one of Matas's PP colleagues, the former Minister for Agriculture Miguel Arias Cañeta, accused immigrants of “collapsing the national health service and providing poor quality labour to the construction industry.” Antich said that comments like that worry him more than those made by a handful of Socialists who favour a more relaxed approach to immigration.