Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told lawmakers Wednesday that Spain's economy was improving thanks to policy choices that will not yield "miraculous results" in the short term but will eventually lead to strong growth and job creation.
He was responding to remarks in Parliament by the leader of the Socialist opposition, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, who said the government's policies were not improving Spaniards' quality of life and urged Rajoy to reverse "cruel" measures such as denying free, non-emergency health care to undocumented adult immigrants and charging pensioners for prescriptions.
The conservative prime minister did not specifically reply to those two requests, although he reiterated that all of his government's economic measures were aimed at correcting imbalances that existed when he took office.
He recalled that between 2008 and 2011, the final years of Socialist predecessor Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's administration, the number of unemployed persons in Spain rose by 3.4 million, an increase four times higher than in Italy and seven and 13 times more, respectively, than in Britain or France.
The premier also said Zapatero's government had reduced employee salaries, freezed pensions and caused serious imbalances.
He hailed his government's achievements since December 2011, saying that Spain's economy has come out of recession and will grow 0.7 percent next year and that governments and companies have access to cheaper financing because the country's risk premium is substantially lower.
Rajoy was referring to the extra return investors demand to hold the country's benchmark 10-year bond compared with equivalent German debt.
The prime minister also cited improvement on the inflation front, recent declines in the registered jobless and better foreign investment figures in reaching his conclusion that "things are getting better."
Even so, the Spanish economy remains hampered by the fallout from the collapse of a long-building housing bubble, which left many of its banks saddled with toxic assets. The unemployment rate stood at more than 26 percent in the second quarter.
Rubalcaba, for his part, said Rajoy's austerity drive had led to an erosion of labor, health and education rights and reduced Spaniards' quality of life.
He slammed the health care cuts in particular and said several of Spain's autonomous communities had not been applying the measure affecting immigrants out of a sense of compassion and professional ethics.
The opposition leader, meanwhile, said the prescription drugs measure was affecting many chronically ill people who take those medicines "not to heal but to stay alive."
"I think that no decent society can support these two measures, and therefore I'm urging you to withdraw them, because they're a mix of lack of feeling and clumsiness. Don't add more suffering to the suffering of many chronically ill in Spain," Rubalcaba told Rajoy.