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New Political Era Dawns in Spain Despite Coalition Challenges

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On January 7th, the Spanish Parliament succeeded in passing the investiture vote by the narrowest of margins, at 167 to 165 votes. Now the Socialist (PSOE) led administration is ready to progress from constant election footing, with two campaigns in 2019 alone and four in the last four years overall. The challenges of maintaining the assembled coalition, however, will not be easy for one of the EU’s largest countries.

The Shape of the Government

The construct of the new Spanish administration sees the PSOE in a coalition arrangement with the far-left Podemos movement, with the added support of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG). Following negotiations, President Pedro Sanchez also managed to secure the tacit support – by abstention from the vote – of the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the left wing EH Bildu movement from the Basque region.

Ranged against Sanchez were the resurgent centre-right Partido Popular and the far-right Vox movement, which had the largest individual gains in the December 2019 elections. Voting against him were also the pro-union Catalan party Ciudadanos, which was decimated in the last elections.

The left wing and pro-secessionist makeup of the new administration makes it a target of particularly strong attacks from the centre-right and far-right opposition, with references that the PSOE ally with “terrorists” and “coup perpetrators” (in reference to the ERC, who are staunch supporters of the jailed leaders of the Catalan independence movement) who want to “break Spain’s unity”.

Sanchez responded to these statements, countering that “Spain is not going to break, the constitution is not going to break. What is going to be broken is the blockade to the progressive government democratically elected by the Spaniards”.

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A primary focus in Spain is the issue of Catalan independence. With vital support President Sanchez’s administration coming from secessionist and pro-independence groups, he will have to make good on his pledge to reopen talks with separatist groups. Copyright: Riderfoot / Shuttershock.com

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Main Priorities and The Challenges

High income earners and large businesses will be two sections of Spanish society set to feel the impact of the PSOE-Podemos alliance, with plans to raise taxes for these sectors while small-to medium-sized enterprises are set to see taxes lowered from 25 percent to 23 percent. For those in the finance or hydrocarbon industry, corporate tax would be set at a minimum of 15 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

The Podemos party has lobbied hard for increased protection for workers and raising the minimum wage from 900 euros per month to a point where it reaches 60 percent of the average Spanish salary, though there is no time frame for this overhaul. On an international scale, uncertainty on the world economic stage could affect Spain – a country that continues to have a high unemployment rate.

With vital support for his administration coming from secessionist and pro-independence groups, particularly the ERC, Sanchez is going to have to make good on his pledge to reopen talks with pro-independence groups in Catalonia and will have to address the issue of concessions to the jailed leaders of the failed Catalan independence vote of 2017. Catalonia is an emotive subject for many, and Sanchez’s position makes him a large and soft target for attacks on this issue, particularly from the PSOE’s traditional rivals, the PP, under their leader Pablo Casado.

Speaking before the investiture vote, Casado said that the PSOE was coalescing the most radical government in the country’s history, and that Sanchez would be vulnerable to “blackmail” from pro-independence Catalan politicians and the radical far-left policies of Podemos. “Now the problem will be yours. If you meet the demands of your anti-system partners, you will break up Spain. If not, they will throw you out on the street”, Casado said. He added that the PP would take legal action against the government if they did not remove the head of the Catalan parliament, Quim Torra, from office after being found guilty of civil disobedience during the separatist vote – a ruling Torra is currently contesting.

Attacks went both ways during parliamentary debates, however. Mertxe Aizpurua of the pro-Basque independence EH Bildu party called those on the opposition benches “Francoists” in reference to the late dictator Francisco Franco. Indeed, the shadow the Spanish Civil War loomed large in the parliament, with Sanchez quoting Manuel Azaña, the leader of the Spanish Republican government which was overthrown by Franco’s coup in the 1930s. Addressing parliament, the President said, “we are all born under the same sun” and pledged to end a political climate he described as “toxic”.

Recriminations are likely to last quite some time, and this administration can expect no honeymoon period. One central task the minority government must deliver on is passing the budget for 2020. But it has not been forgotten that it was Sanchez’s inability to get his first budget through parliament in 2019 that set the stage for this fractious period of elections and the reopening of stark political and social divides in Spain.

As Spain’s citizens and diaspora around the world look on, only time will be able to reveal what will come of the country’s new coalition.

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Ruairi Kavanagh

Ruairi is an Irish writer, editor and author with 25 years of experience across national and specialist media. He specialises in reporting on matters relating to education, development,emergency services, international affairs, defence and security with particular interest in European affairs, the Balkan region, the Middle East and Africa.

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