Not many Cabinet ministers will be enjoying the country’s beaches, mountains and rural retreats this summer, as the economic crisis threatens to keep them close to home base in Madrid. In response to critics’ accusations that he is doing nothing but talk, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced last Saturday that he will hold a special Cabinet meeting on August 14th to review the situation. He will also hold talks with economic experts this week, who have already said his biggest mistake was to underplay the crisis in the lead-up to the March general election so as not to frighten voters. When the ploy seemed to work, he continued along those lines until the truck drivers’ strike drove home the seriousness of the situation. The experts said the government did not expect the strike to last more than 48 hours. In the event it lasted nearly a week and people all over the country were shocked to find themselves facing empty shelves at supermarkets and shops for the first time in their lives. The PM’s aversion to the word “crisis” did nothing to reassure the populace, who faced rising food and fuel prices on a daily basis, not to mention the higher mortgage payments that thousands will have difficulty in meeting. The government is finally beginning to recognise that the current crisis is the worst since 1995 at least, but steps taken so far to confront it have been lukewarm at best. The experts have already said they will recommend lower taxes as well as lower Social Security payments for companies and to make it cheaper for them to lay off workers, because high severance payments will bankrupt many small companies. This is something the Prime Minister cannot do because he has pledged to keep his promise to raise minimum wages and pensions. However, he will be talking to both trade unions and employers in the next few days to try to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. Meanwhile he has not announced any vacation plans he may have but like many of his fellow Spaniards he will probably take less time off this year.

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