HAVING managed to ensure that European Union residents will not lose their privilege of 50 percent discounts on inter-island travel and connections with the mainland, regional President Francesc Antich gave assurances yesterday that his triumph was not in any way due to political favouritism.
The President said that whilst he had been assured by Central Government's Ministry for Public Works not only of the maintenance of the discounts but also of moves to further establish the inter-island and mainland connections as a public air service, there also needed to be a commitment on behalf of the Balearic government to help root out inefficiencies in the subsidy system.
Antich was speaking yesterday during a visit to the construction site of a Day Centre at Es Coll d'en Rabassa in Palma. He alleged that there had been no political favouritism or partisan spirit involved in the successful outcome of the controversy.
The President claimed that at all times, the Balearic government had acted in its dealings with the ministry purely out of concern for the fact that the private and professional well-being of the Islands' residents could have been put at risk if the subsidies on air travel had been cut.
Antich said that the uncertainty over whether or not Central Government was to cut the discounts had given a special sense of unity to the political parties of the Balearic Islands. The President was referring to last Tuesday's Parliamentary session in which MPs of all political persuasion threw their weight behind their leader against the threats of Central Government to withdraw the discounts. There had even been mention by the opposition Partido Popular of how rudely Mr. Antich had been treated in Madrid and a demand for an apology from the Ministry for Public Works.
Antich said all in all, he was very satisfied with the outcome of what had transpired but it now remained to address the issue of stopping the airlines using Balearic airports from increasing their fares. They have grown considerably in recent years, said the President, aware of suggestions that the airlines might be keeping their fares artificially high knowing that Central Government is paying for half of them.
Antich had been asked during last Tuesday's session of Parliament how he was going to address the matter with the airlines. He had responded by saying that considering the weight of the matter, it was really up to the Ministry of Public Works to seek meetings with them but he did not discount being part of any round table meetings. The President said that it was important to stop air fares from rising out of all proportion because not only would it become a further drain on public resources if Central Government is continuing to pay the 50 percent discount, but would also mean that residents would be unfairly penalised by the high cost.
Asked about the negotiations between the Public Works ministry and the main unions in Spain over minimum transport services to be applied on 29th September, the day of the general strike, President Antich said that the negotiations had been good and that any services that helped local people and tourists to get around could only be considered as welcome. He said that the outcome of talks had satisfied the unions that their right to strike was being honoured and that the rights of citizens to free movement about the country was being respected.
Both the regional government and hoteliers associations in the Balearics, meanwhile, are acutely aware that the British press are warning people in the United Kingdom about the possible transport chaos which could arise from the general strike. Despite reports of a record August in tourism, the industry is anxious that the strike will undermine the momentum for the rest of the season.