STAFF REPORTER

PALMA
THE President of the Balearic Islands, Francesc Antich announced yesterday that his government is shortly to sign a pact promoting industrial competitivity and social cohesion in the region, and another aimed at tackling the housing shortage and establishing a new localised taxation system.

The regional authority leader opened a debate yesterday morning in the Balearic Parliament on the present government's general policy. Over the course of an hour, Antich benchmarked his objectives and achievements after 120 days as president - a speech which is traditional after a new ruling party takes office. He did so with only the minimum of reference to the previous ruling Partido Popular, at that time under the leadership of Jaume Matas who resigned from political life after losing the Balearic elections in May this year.

Antich started by saying that his government had taken over from its predecessors without ringing major changes as “social consensus” was a major priority for the new Socialist government. He pointed to the highly co-ordinated way in which all his government institutions had risen to the challenge of the foundering of the fuel tanker “Don Pedro” off the coast of Ibiza in July this year, and of the aftermath of two major storms which hit Majorca in early Autumn.

The first major pact that Antich wants to sign refers to industrial competitivity and social cohesion. The aim of this policy is to strengthen the Balearic economy and create more jobs. A two-tier strategy will be put in place: one targeting tourism and another focusing on the creation of employment.

A separate pact, for which - Antich said - he can count on support from the construction industry, refers to a Housing agreement to be signed “in the next few weeks” destined to “provide a solution to the most serious” difficulties facing a sector of the Balearic population. To this end, the Balearic government is to invest 18 million euros in the purchse of land to build subsidised housing, and is correlatively drawing up a programme which aims to complete 700 homes in one year. Other measures included the government's introduction of emergency measures to stop construction projects eating into the natural landscape - prime examples of this move are prohibition of property development alongside golf courses, and very specifically the banning of building schemes alongside the new hospital at Son Espases. This latter issue follows in the wake of mounting unpopularity surrounding a decision recently made by Antich to proceed with the construction of Palma's new hospital at the site of the Son Real monastery, a move which cost him the support of the “Bloc” - a left-wing coalition which had said they would back him during the regional elections in May this year, providing he assured them he would not build the new hospital close to the Monastery site.

On the economic front, the president said that steps have been taken for the “imminent” introduction of a regional taxation system. “Now that the time of conflict with the ruling national government in Madrid is past,” said Antich - referring to the clashes between his predecessor Jaume Matas and the Socialist Spanish prime minister, José Luís Rodriguez Zapatero - the time had come to streamline regional financing. In relation to tourism, Antich affirmed that “the industry continues to be the heart which gives life to the whole social and economic fabric of the Islands.” As such, he wants to push for measures which bring seasonal tourism to an end and create an all-year-round industry, alluding to key plans for the upgrading of the Playa de Palma, the construction of a Congress centre at the eastern end of the Paseo Marítimo and a scheme to bring a new dynamic to tourism in Minorca.

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