Nine years after the disclosure of a huge corruption scandal, Mariano Rajoy and his Popular Party have finally been ousted from government. The new PM, Pedro Sánchez, holds a very weak majority in the Spanish Parliament, with fewer votes from his own party than from the other minority groups that supported him.
If he maintains his majority, his government faces the double challenge of restoring democratic values and modernizing Spain. Unfortunately, the new government lacks both the necessary power and the political will to accomplish this.
This is not the first time that a ruling party in Spain has been removed from office with millions of taxpayer euros lining the pockets of some of its members. Pedro Sánchez’s own party – the PSOE – was involved in similar corruption scandals. Unfortunately, nothing indicates that any party holding power in Spain would behave differently.
What was truly worrying, during the last Popular Party mandate, was the institutionalization of dictatorial behaviours, in a way unparalleled in recent Western European history. Even if the current balance of political forces doesn’t allow for modernizing reforms, there is at least the possibility of reversing some of the more outrageous policies.
One of the first reversals expected is the abolition of the “gag law” that bans protests near Congress or Senate buildings, unauthorized marches on university campuses, and that also makes it illegal to publish pictures of police actions. Under this law, the photos illustrating some of these articles are currently illegal in Spain.
It might take longer to change the legislation that punishes the so-called “glorification of terrorism” or “defamation of the Crown”. Two rap singers have been recently sentenced to over three years of imprisonment because of their lyrics. The law used to charge them, interestingly, was passed in 1995 under the PSOE – not the Partido Popular. However, convictions have exponentially increased in recent years, due to ultra-conservative judges being appointed. As noted in a previous article, the Congress and Senate (where the Partido Popular and its allies hold a wide majority) appoint the High Court judges in Spain.
We might also have to wait to see a change of the recently appointed Spanish Judge of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), María Elosegui, who, according to several sources, has linked homosexuality to mental illness. Unless political pressure makes her resign, she might be representing Spain for as long as nine years.
On top of this, Pedro Sánchez will also face issues that impede the modernization of Spain. Unfortunately, these issues are structural. Some of them require a reform of the Spanish Constitution, requiring a three-fifths majority of both Congress and Senate.
First, Spain has the highest unemployment rate in Europe after Greece and many jobs are dependent on tourism and construction. Some regions have close to 30% unemployment, while maintaining very high public servant to population ratios. For instance, Andalusia received €14 billion in EU aid in the last six years, but this assistance was not used to create the transformation industry required for its agriculture; instead, expensive but unnecessary infrastructure has been built. Meanwhile, land workers in Andalusia and Extremadura are entitled -since 1984 – to six months of unemployment benefits for only 35 days of work.
Another problem is Spanish debt, two and a half times higher than when the debt crisis started. Partly for the mentioned reasons, Spain is far from the productivity required to pay its financial obligations. A change in the global economic situation, like an increase in oil prices or interest rates, could lead to its bankruptcy.
Last, but not least, there is the unresolved territorial question. Spain has an asymmetric, oversized, and ineffective administrative system that includes 17 regional parliaments with authority limited to implementing laws approved by the Spanish Congress. None of the regions, except the Basque Country, has relevant tax collection capacity. It is likely that Pedro Sánchez will offer cosmetic Constitutional reform, unlikely to satisfy Catalan demands.
The old English idiom “building castles in Spain” means to daydream about a vague and idealized future. Let’s hope that the modernization of Spain will be a less visionary project.