Parties jockey for position over economic reconstruction

Pedro Sánchez during a videoconference Monday with Partido Popular leader Pablo Casado. Photo: Moncloa via El País
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The push from Spain’s government for all-party consensus on how to rebuild the national economy following the coronavirus crisis grinds slowly on, as the country’s political parties jockey for control over setting the agenda for the country’s economic future.

President Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist party aired a proposal earlier this month to form a national accord among the parties modeled along the Pactos de Moncloa that saw all of Spain’s political parties drop their differences and come together to overcome economic difficulties during the country’s transition to democracy in the late-1970s.

As a result of the coronavirus crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says that Spain’s economy will contract by -8 percent this year, instead of growing at nearly 3 percent as earlier projected, and that unemployment could hit 21 percent.

The IMF projections mean that the Sánchez-led coalition government will have to scrap its previous plans for the 2020 annual budget, which were to include an increased spending ceiling of nearly 4 percent (127.6 billion euros) and a hike in the annual budget deficit of 1.8 percent of GDP. To gain congressional approval for a new, post-coronavirus budget the government will now need cross-party support in Congress, including the backing of Spain’s leading conservative opposition party, the Partido Popular (PP).

► News Sources: 20minutos, El País and La Vanguardia …

The initial idea proposed by Sánchez of securing that support via talks among party leaders toward a new consensus Moncloa pact that would shepherd a return to economic growth has quickly been scuttled, however, with PP general secretary Pablo Casado rejecting the idea outright last week.

Instead, Sánchez agreed with Casado in a video-conference meeting on Monday to ditch his pact idea in favor of formation of a congressional “reconstruction” commission, with public debate and hearings over how to move the economy forward to take place prior to a formal vote on a consensus agreement.

No sooner had the congressional commission been agreed, however, than the PP’s Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, spokesperson for the party and Casado’s lieutenant in the legislature, upped the ante with the demand that the PP be allowed to chair the all-party commission because of its position as the leading opposition party in Congress. Hours later, Casado appeared to be trying to get the jump on Sánchez by formally filing for the registration of the commission in Congress.

The PP holds a minority of 89 seats in the current session of Spain’s 350-member Congress. But Sánchez’s own Socialist party is the leading party in Congress, with 120 seats, and in tandem with governing coalition partner Unidas Podemos (35 seats) the number of deputies controlled by the Sánchez government far outweighs the legislative strength of the PP, even in conjunction with the 52 deputies of the PP’s far-right ally, VOX.

While the relative congressional strengths of the parties appears to be sufficient to keep the PP from hijacking the reconstruction commission altogether, Sánchez has not reacted directly to the challenge from Casado over control of the commission.

► News Sources: El País and EFE va EuractivTV …

Instead, on Wednesday he chose to broaden the debate over national economic reconstruction, proposing that similar commissions be formed in the regional parliaments of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities, the majority of which are controlled by the Socialists, either alone or in tandem with allied parties.

With that move, Sánchez has effectively opened up a new battleground for control of the agenda in the country’s post-coronavirus reconstruction in the regional legislatures of the Madrid, Murcia and Andalucia, where the conservative PP governs at the leisure of its allied centre-right Ciudadanos party.

Spanish press reports indicate that Sánchez may be trying to offer Ciudadanos a greater role in reconstruction efforts at both the regional and national levels in exchange for the party withdrawing some or all of its support in propping up the otherwise fragile PP governments in the conservative party’s regional strongholds.

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