The Council of Ministers established further exceptions to the budget closure order in order to allocate 486 million euros in subsidies for R&D+i, with an estimated impact of some 5,000 new jobs. It also approved cinema subsidies and the new methodology for calculating the costs of electricity supply.

After the meeting of the Council of Ministers, presided over by the Vice-President of the Government, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, due to the fact that President of the Government Rajoy was away at a meeting in Berlin, the Government Spokesperson, Iñigo Méndez de Vigo, reported on the decisions adopted.

The Council of Ministers authorised a significant exception to the budget closure order which will allow almost 500 million euros to be allocated to R&D+i through the following initiatives: R&D ‘Excellence’ projects, the State R&D+i Programme geared towards challenges facing society and the State Sub-programme on Scientific and Technical Infrastructures, and Equipment.

The first of these is aimed at “experimental projects capable of generating knowledge”, with an allocation of 125 million euros. The second, with an allocation of 244 million euros, seeks to promote “scientific knowledge aimed at tackling challenges in the fields of health, energy, transport and food”. The third project has a provision of 117 million euros.

Íñigo Méndez de Vigo said that it is estimated that these R&D+i programmes could generate up to 5,000 highly qualified job posts in line with the Europe 2020 programme”.

Cinema subsidies

Another exception to the budget closure order approved on Friday by the government relates to general aid for the production of feature films based on projects, for a total sum of 10 million euros.

Íñigo Méndez de Vigo added that this aid for Spanish cinema has been “very well received” by the sector and will go to help “continued progress being made by the Spanish cinema industry”. In this regard, he offered certain significant figures which, he said, are proof of “the talent and innovative capacity of our cinema productions”: 2016 will close with a screen share of Spanish films of around 20%, and some 17 million spectators.

On another note, the Government Spokesperson referred to the final exception to the budget closure order which will allow for the concession of grants to water treatment plants  for seawater desalination in the Canary Islands, a project which has been under way since 2013, and amounts to a total of 4.25 million euros.

Calculation of electricity prices

The Council of Ministers also approved a Royal Decree establishing a new methodology to determine the calculation of voluntary prices for small electricity consumers and the legal regime for its purchase. Íñigo Méndez de Vigo pointed out that the government will thus be in compliance with the three rulings handed down by the Supreme Court obliging the corresponding Royal Decree from 2014 to be amended.

With the new methodology for calculation to be approved, the price increase for small consumers will be “minimal”. The impact on an average invoice will amount to 25 eurocents per annum. In this regard, Minister Méndez de Vigo underlined that it is the government’s intention “to avoid the costs of energy supply falling on the consumer”.

Requirement on the Lower House of Parliament

According to the explanation from the Government Spokesperson, the Council of Ministers agreed to require the Lower House of Parliament to revoke the decision of the Board of the Lower House to admit two draft bills from the Socialist Group for their passage through Parliament; the first, in relation to the suspension of the schedule for the Constitutional Law to Improve the Quality of Education (LOMCE) – which was debated and approved on Tuesday 15 November: the second, in relation to the amendment of Article 42.1 of the Workers Statute to guarantee labour conditions of sub-contractors.

The Government Spokesperson pointed out that Article 134.6 of the Spanish Constitution establishes the opposition “to all draft bills or amendments that result in an increase in the credit or a reduction in the budget revenue” as “the exclusive competence of the government, which cannot be delegated”. In the case of the LOMCE, the government estimates that this represents an increase of some 600 million euros. The same is true of the proposed reform of the Workers Statute.

Other agreements of the Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers also reviewed the favourable report from the General Council of the Judiciary regarding the appointment of José Manuel Maza Martín as the Chief Public Prosecutor. As established by law, it now falls to the Justice Committee of the Lower House of Parliament to evaluate the merits and suitability of the candidate proposed by the government to head up the Public Prosecution Service.

The government also approved the passage, under the fast-track procedure, of the draft law on the restitution of cultural assets that have been illegally removed from the territory of a Member State of the European Union. According to the minister, this new law will be approved in compliance with a European Directive that all the Member States of the EU had undertaken to transpose before the end of 2015, something which Spain had been unable to do until now due to its operation as a caretaker government for 10 months.

On another note, the Council of Ministers approved various appointments to the Presidency of the Government and in the Ministries of the Presidency and Regional Administrations; Justice; Defence; Treasury and Public Function; Home Affairs; Public Works; Education, Culture and Sport; Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda; Economic Affairs, Industry and Competition; and Health, Social Services and Equality.

Current affairs

When asked about the negotiations to reach a State Education Pact, as mentioned by President of the Government Rajoy in the Investiture Debate, the Government Spokesperson stressed that this is “one of the government’s priorities” and a “sincere need”, as expressed by all the political groups. He announced that a sub-committee will be set up under the Education Committee in the Lower House to define, within a period of six months, the basic lines of the Pact and, thenceforth, the government will present the corresponding draft law.

Prior to this, added Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, the government will publish a Royal-Decree Law, which will provide, among other things, that those students of the fourth year of Compulsory Secondary Education will be examined exclusively on the core subjects and the final exam of Advanced Secondary Education will only count for university entry. These measures are the “first step” in the Education Pact, he pointed out.

As regards this issue, the minister said that the LOMCE will not be repealed or suspended during this academic year in order not “to be highly prejudicial to students”.

Íñigo Méndez de Vigo supported the decision of those responsible for San Sebastián 2016 to withdraw an exhibition from the city containing two works by inmates from the terrorist group ETA, “because this may harm the sensitivities of victims of terrorism and this government always stands by the victims”.

As regards the absence of and actions by certain groups at the formal session to open the 12th Legislature in the Lower House of Parliament, the Government Spokesperson highlighted the importance of respect for human relations and expressed his wish for this to be the “tone and disposition during this legislature”, because, he argued, Parliament must be “the mirror people look into”. In terms of the state of the negotiations on the General State Budget for 2017, the Government Spokesperson asserted that the initial contacts are still at a “very preliminary stage” and asked for people to be “more open-minded” and not adopt “pre-conceived positions”.