Spain’s Socialists have succeeded at bringing about the fall of the government of the conservative People’s Party. The new cabinet also will not have a stable majority in parliament but there is a better chance of progress in the negotiations on the future of Catalonia.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was forced to step down on a vote of no confidence put forward by the Socialist Workers’ Party, which then proposed its leader, Pedro Sánchez, be the next prime minister, garnering enough support with 180 MPs. The vote took place a week after a court sentenced several prominent members of the People’s Party (including its former treasurer) after they were found guilty of corruption. Rajoy’s lack of a firm reaction created conditions favourable for a move contesting the legitimacy of the government, which did not have a stable majority in parliament. Apart from the Socialists, the left-wing party Podemos, the Basque Nationalist Party, and two Catalan independentist parties (Republican Left, European Democratic Party) backed the proposal.
The 46-year-old Sánchez has been a member of the Socialist party since 1993. He boasts a colourful career, not only in politics, serving several years on Madrid’s city council and in the national parliament, but also in business and academia (he has a doctorate in economics). He does not, however, have government experience nor had he held any important positions in parliament. He became the party’s leader in 2014 somewhat unexpectedly. Two years later, when he decided to resign over internal struggles in the party, it seemed his career might end then and there. But to the surprise of political commentators, he managed to regain the leadership some months later.
Even though Podemos has stated its readiness to enter the government, Sánchez rejected the idea of a coalition. Like his predecessor, the new prime minister will not have the backing of a stable majority, with the Socialists having just 84 mandates in the 350-strong Chamber of Deputies. This means the party may find it hard to push through its flagship initiatives, such as reform of the tax system, more generous social spending—higher pensions in particular—and increasing the minimum wage. Sánchez’s declarations that his government would maintain a cautious fiscal policy—the budget is to remain unchanged—suggest the new prime minister is wary of raising apprehensions within the business community and in Brussels.
The new prime minister is likely to ponder calling for early elections, betting that Rajoy’s fall may provoke both internal strife in the People’s Party and a spike in the Socialist’s popularity. Talks with the Catalan government will be a fundamental challenge. The support lent to the no-confidence motion by the Catalan parties suggests that the latter count on a new beginning in the talks and signal a readiness to make some concessions.
The new prime minister is an advocate of integration and his declarations show he is not planning a radical move away from the tight budgetary policy agreed with the European Commission. Sánchez is likely to aspire to be one of the main promoters of integration, aiming to take the place of Italy as a key partner of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. In the negotiations of the next EU budget (multiannual financial framework), Sánchez’s government will oppose cuts to Common Agricultural Policy and cohesion policy. On the latter, Spain will call for changes to the criteria used to allocate the funds so that more money is made available to tackle such challenges as youth unemployment and managing mass-migration.