On 1st June 2018, for the first time in the history of Spain, the government was dismissed by the opposition. The prime minister Mariano Rajoy was forced to leave his position in favour of Pedro Sanchez, as a result of the vote of no confidence asked by Sanchez himself.
The vote had place as a consequence of the so called “Gurtel case”, which overwhelmed the Partito Popolar, Rajoy ruling party. The Audiencia National, the highest court of justice in the country, sentenced 29 people from the party, amongst which the former treasurer, to a total of 351 years of prison for corruption.
The “Gurten case” is only the last shot to Rajoy popularity, which since his election in 2011 suffered because of the austerity line he decided to take as a result of the economic crisis in the country and because of the hard response to the Catalan separatist movement, which saw the peak last October, when the regional chamber declared independence.
Sanchez, leader of the Labour Socialist Spanish Party, PSOE, presented the vote and, despite every forecast, found the support of far-left party Podemos, the Catalan pro-independence groups PSC and PdeCAT, and the Basque nationalist party PVN. Even if those parties refused to endorse Sanchez for the premiership in 2016, leading the country to another Rajoy government, on this last occasion they gave him enough backing in the parliament to form a government soon named by the opposition as “Frankenstein government”.
The new government could last until June 2020, when the legislation will see its natural end, but Sanchez already affirmed that there will be early elections, even if he did not point out any certain date. It is likely that Sanchez will wait until its party influence among the electorate will raise enough to challenge the centre-right party Ciudadanos, which in recent polls reached the 28.7% of preferences against the 19.1% of PSOE.
The leader of Ciudadanos Albert Rivera, now at the opposition in the parliament, is one of the strongest opponents to the new government and had sworn to pay “close attention to the concession Sanchez will grant” to both Basque and Catalan nationalist parties, without whom he couldn’t have overthrown Rajoy.
In fact, Sanchez already promised to the secessionists the will to start a dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona while respecting Spain’s unity, although the PSOE strongly supported the previous government anti-independence position on the Catalan question. Rajoy himself highlighted that not long-ago Sanchez was accusing Quim Torra, the new Catalan president of the “generalitat”, of “xenophobia”.
Sanchez government could foster a change in Catalan separatists’ strategy, shifting it from pushing to a total confrontation to finding common intents with the Madrid government. The change in Sanchez tones, now characterized by cordiality and respect, may be the first step to this direction. Still, what the Socialist leader did so far is in the meaning nothing different than what Rajoy already did.
From his side, the already mentioned president of the “generalitat” welcomed the change of government as an event that will produce “progress towards building and independent state”. To see if the Catalan question will take any step forward soon, great importance will have the choice of the new prime minister in deciding the ministers of the new government.
On Monday in fact, Sanchez decided to offer the Foreign ministry to the Catalan Josep Borrell, former secretary of state and former European Parliament president. Borrell, which distinguished himself for being contrary to the Catalan rhetoric, have been immediately criticized by the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, which from Germany asked to the new Prime minister if Borrell’s choice was “the gesture you had planned to send us a message of fraternal de-escalation?”.
There are no sure indications on what to expect from the new socialist government, but the choice of Borrell doesn’t arise from an unpredictable gamble. In fact, the change of government takes place in a particular period for Spanish foreign policy.
On one side, the so-called Brexit will challenge Madrid on the Gibraltar situation. In the next ten months the British territory in Spain will leave the European Union together with United Kingdom and the Spanish government will be involved in a close round of negotiations. Borrell choice in the Foreign ministry reflects the need of an experienced figure in both international end European chessboard.
Furthermore, Spain was until the first months of 2018 the only country in Eurozone with its accounts monitored by the European Commission for the delay that former prime minister Rajoy had in achieving the regulation that sets 3% of GDP as the top of the fiscal red.
In March, the Spanish deficit touched the 3.07% of the GDP, well below the 4.5% registered in 2016 and it is expected to reach 3% before the end of the year. The last forecasts stated that Spanish economy should grow by 2.5% this year. Sanchez, which is known for his pro-Europe positions, promised he will work at this objective as already decided by the previous government and will prepare the 2019 target in accordance with the European Commission, which already announced the approaching closing of the inquiry for excessive deficit.
It is likely that Sanchez’s promise to honour Spain’s commitments to the European Union and to hold the government on pro-Europeans tracks will see the first step in the choice of Borrell. And so far, both the Madrid stock exchange and European Union policy makers look with optimistic to Spain future government. Which, as Donald tusk wrote to Pedro Sanchez after the 1st June: “comes at a challenging time for Europe. European unity is now more needed than ever.”