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Cablegate: Pp Convention in Barcelona Targets Catalan Voters

INFO LOG-00 AF-00 AID-00 CIAE-00 INL-00 DODE-00 PDI-00
DS-00 EAP-00 UTED-00 VCI-00 H-00 TEDE-00 INR-00
IO-00 LAB-01 MOFM-00 MOF-00 VCIE-00 NSAE-00 NIMA-00
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FMP-00 EPAE-00 DSCC-00 PRM-00 DRL-00 NFAT-00 SAS-00
FA-00 SWCI-00 PESU-00 /001W

R 251702Z NOV 09
FM AMCONSUL BARCELONA
TO AMEMBASSY MADRID
SECSTATE WASHDC 1235
INFO AMCONSUL BARCELONA

UNCLAS BARCELONA 000160


STATE FOR EUR/WE MCKNIGHT AND ZERDECKI

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV SP
SUBJECT: PP CONVENTION IN BARCELONA TARGETS CATALAN VOTERS

1. SUMMARY: The center right Spanish Popular Party (PP)
held its national convention in Barcelona on November 13-15,
with a view to increasing their support in Catalonia in regional
elections in late 2010, municipal elections in 2011, and the
general election in 2012. Holding the convention in Barcelona
is among several steps that the PP has taken recently to improve
its image in Catalonia. With recent polls showing PP support in
Catalonia at 11%, many voters see the PP as anti-Catalan, and
are suspicious that the party aims to weaken Catalonia's long
fought struggle for autonomy. In a meeting with the CG, Alicia
Sanchez Camacho, president of the PP in Catalonia, said that the
party intend to convince voters of the strength of its economic
plan and will work to decrease the high unemployment rate in the
region. The PP leader in neighboring Aragon told the CG that
the convention was a great success, and that the PP could look
to a pact with the center right CiU party to increase its
support in Catalonia. While the PP is unlikely to overcome its
historically low support to win Catalonia, increasing its
popularity in the region will be crucial, as the party looks to
take the presidency in 2012. END SUMMARY.

2. During his party's national convention in Barcelona on
November 13-15, Popular Party president Mariano Rajoy signaled
that the opposition PP intends to fight a unified and clean
national campaign to take the Spanish presidency in 2012. PP
secretary general Maria Dolores de Cospedal said that the party
has resolved its recent internal turmoil related to several high
profile corruption scandals and that the PP is united behind a
great leader, Rajoy. She added that the main priority of the
Popular Party is to increase its support in Catalonia. Alicia
Sanchez Camacho, who Rajoy recently hand-picked as the PP
president in Catalonia in an effort to improve the party's
image, played a large role in the convention, emphasizing the
commitment of the PP in Catalonia, where she acknowledged that
the party has played a "more residual" role, but will in the
future be more robust.

3. As PP's presidential candidate for Catalonia in the fall
2010 election, Sanchez Camacho emphasized her party's plans to
fight unemployment and said that the PP should be "leading
change" in Catalonia. In a previous meeting with the CG,
Sanchez Camacho outlined her campaign strategies, which include
an economic plan for Catalonia to overcome the crisis; combating
the unemployment rate in the region, which is the highest in
Spain; fighting voter abstention in Catalonia, which also is the
highest in Spain; and recovering lost social values. She also
mentioned PP's growing popularity in Catalonia, where in the
last year more than 500 people have joined the party. Sanchez
Camacho told the CG that she is going to campaign throughout all
of Catalonia, visiting as many municipalities as she can and
explain that the PP plan is robust and is not anti-Catalan.

4. During the convention, Sanchez Camacho addressed the
need to improve the education system and to reduce the drop-out
rate, which is 22% in Catalonia compared to the European Union
average of 15%. Both she and Rajoy, however, avoided mentioning
the controversial Catalonia Education Law, which the PP is
challenging in Spain's Constitutional Court because of its
emphasis on a Catalan rather than Spanish-language education.
Sanchez Camacho had previously told the CG that parents in
Catalonia must have the right to choose the language of
instruction for their children. She added that the PP asks from
the Catalan Parliament nothing different than what the socialist
President of the Basque Government also asks for - freedom of
choice in education.

5. In her role as candidate for the Catalonia Government,
Sanchez Camacho said she will fight to change the image of the
PP as an anti-Catalan party. Polling data from late October
show the PP possibly gaining two seats in the Catalan Parliament
in next year's election, but with the support of only 11% of the
region's voters. As with the education law, the PP leaders did
not speak about the Catalan Statute, which the PP has also
challenged in the Constitutional Court. (Note: The Statute,
which refines an earlier one, details the nature of Catalonia's
autonomy from Madrid. Despite Catalan voters and the regional
parliament approval of the Statute in 2006, it has not yet been
implemented due to PP's challenge of unconstitutionality. End
Note.) Sanchez Camacho has said that the PP will wait until the
court has decided on the Statute before taking further action.
Nodding toward the recent corruption scandals involving the PP,
Sanchez Camacho, who is also a national board member of the PP,
declared "all parties must fight corruption".

6. In a later visit to Zaragoza, the capital of the
neighboring autonomous region, the CG met with Aragon's PP
president, Luisa Fernanda Rudi, who was pleased with the outcome
of the convention. She said that the participation of prominent
economic leaders from outside of the party and the high level of
attendance made the convention a success. Rudi subtly commented
that she hoped the PP in Catalonia would form a pact with the
center-right Convergence and Union Federation (CiU) to return to
power. She mentioned that Catalonia is a difficult political
region for the PP and the only way to return to power would be
through CiU's support, as was the case during various terms of
office between 1980 and 2003 when CiU lacked the absolute
majority and made pacts with PP. Criticizing the current
government's economic plan, Rudi adhered to PP's view that
increasing taxes and increasing public debt is a big mistake and
will worsen the crisis. She also noted the PP's track record in
reducing unemployment and creating more than 5 million jobs
across Spain, when PP ruled the country from 1996 to 2004.

7. COMMENT: The convention can be seen as a success for
President Rajoy, serving both to promote Sanchez Camacho as a
presidential candidate for Catalonia and presenting the PP as a
viable alternative to the socialist government. At the same
time Rajoy said that the Basque pact (a pact between the PP and
the socialist PSOE to remove the Basque Nationalist Party from
power after the March 2009 regional elections) could be
transferred to Catalonia, an idea that the Catalan socialist
leadership summarily rejected. In order to help Rajoy become
president of Spain in 2012, the PP must increase its
representation in Catalonia. Rajoy believes that the PP in
Catalonia is in good hands. Sanchez Camacho is a hard-working,
energetic, and capable leader, and is Catalan. While Sanchez
Camacho is not likely to win the Catalonia presidency, any
increase in the number of parliamentary seats she can gain for
her party in 2010 will boost the PP's strength in the 2011
municipal elections and the 2012 general election. END COMMENT.


CROUCH

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