It was a heart-pounding debut in the first important parliamentary vote for Pedro Sánchez’s third government. On Wednesday, in the Senate chamber because there is work in progress in Congress, the government presented three decrees, only to see one rejected by the chamber. A day of high tension ensued, with hours of negotiations with Junts and Podemos, and the result remaining uncertain until the last minute, when a tie vote also had to be repeated due to the erroneous abstention of a parliamentarian from Sumar.
The difficulties inherent to the composite majority that supports him have fully manifested themselves for Pedro Sánchez. In particular, the showdown between Podemos and Sumar is causing the executive to stumble, and these difficulties offer space for greater protagonism to Junts per Catalunya, Carles Puigdemont’s party.
The two decrees that were passed are the Relaunch Plan, an omnibus decree with reforms in judicial matters and the public service necessary to access the new ten billion Euro aid package of the Next Generation EU fund, and the Anti-Crisis Decree, which renews and introduces measures for the economic and social consequences of the war in Ukraine.
“We had to work a lot but all’s well that ends well,” said Sánchez, making the best of a bad situation. In fact, he ultimately achieved some important results. The stumble could have been much worse, given that in the morning the numbers seemed to be lacking for all three decrees. Above all, it was Yolanda Díaz who was rejected, and the head of government can look forward.
Sánchez was playing a lot on the anti-crisis decree – with its twist of the wrong vote, resulting in a 171 to 171 draw. At midnight on the same day, a series of rules – free transportation for students, revaluation of pensions, the blocking of evictions for vulnerable families and a VAT reduction on basic products – was set to expire. The second vote, nominal at the request of the right, ended 172 to 171. The socialists managed to mediate, obtaining the abstention of the Catalans in exchange for measures that are at once vague and propagandistically strong.
The “integral” transfer of competences regarding emigration is the main one, strongly claimed by Junts, but in reality, it is limited only to management on the basis of national regulations, without any legislative autonomy; it could not be otherwise since it concerns national legislative powers. The elimination of VAT on olive oil is real. The opposition to the recovery plan was motivated by Junts because in its opinion a measure which sanctioned the appeal of the law to the European Court would have hindered the Amnesty law. The cancellation of the rule seems more symbolic than concrete. The government said that “the EU had asked for it” but it is also true that it is already part of jurisprudence, in the hierarchical criterion of national and community laws and institutions of Justice. It was sacrificed without much thought, which may lead one to think that it was born expendable.
But Sánchez still has a high price to pay, the idea of giving in to the independentists, of depending on them. Junts put down the sign “I achieved this”: what is important in its competition with Esquerra republicana de Catalunya are the story, management of the militant and electoral base, and competition with other sectors of independentism, such as the cosa-Ripoll, which explains the race for control over immigration. Ripoll, province of Gerona, capital of the Ripollés comarca in the Catalan Pre-Pyrenean, is a town of just over ten thousand people governed by a far-right Hispanophobic and Islamophobic independentist list, Aliança Catalana (it is worth watching the video in the banner by activating the audio). The mayor, Silvia Orriols, founded the party by leaving the Front Nacional de Catalunya (FNC), which governs La Masò, a small town in the province of Tarragona. Both localities were governed by Junts, casting bait to that electorate and playing with the fire of ethnic xenophobic nationalism, an old Catalan fascism.
Here we come to the rejection of the decree agreed on with the European Commission by Yolanda Díaz’s Ministry of Labor concerning unemployment benefits, with the votes of PP, Vox, UPN and the five of Podemos. Podemos voting with the right?? It’s the end of the world!
Podemos pursued two objectives; to impose direct negotiations on the PSOE, and to hit Yolanda Díaz, Minister of Labor and leader of Sumar, also in view of the European elections, in which they will run alone. Their opposition to the anti-crisis decree was aimed at opening the direct negotiation channel with the PSOE. Goal achieved. Podemos obtained the inclusion of the extension of the mortgage foreclosure freeze until 2028. The opposition to the decree from Yolanda Díaz’s ministry, however, was adamant.
The ‘no’ was to the reduction of contributions of the IPREM – the public indicator of income, a reference index for the provision of assistance, grants and subsidies – for those over 52 years of age from 125 to 100 percent, considered to be an inadmissible cut. According to the ministry, the measure is justified by the fact that the over-contribution downwardly compensated for the low levels of the minimum wage set by the PP governments, while now, with an increase of 47 percent in the SMI in four years, the reduction is able to remedy the paradox that those who received unemployment had a greater accumulation of contributions than those who had a minimum employment contract. Whether the cut is actual or perceived did not concern Podemos, which did not even show up at the last meeting called by Díaz to seek mediation – reportedly with a proposed amendment to the text. Díaz is really the one defeated by this vote and the blow is to Sumar, already dealing with voices from Izquierda unida asking to present the list independently in some constituencies. The weakening of Díaz is the other objective achieved. However, the cost could be high because, with the decree, immediate concrete measures fall.
The extension of the right to unemployment benefits for workers under 45 without family responsibilities will not start, nor for seasonal workers and the unemployed with contributions of less than six months, and the waiting period of a month between the expiry of the contributory benefit and the receipt of the subsidy will not be eliminated. There will be no possibility of accumulating hours for breastfeeding on maternity leave even if provided for in the sector contract. Above all, the increase in the subsidy from 480 to 570 euros for the first semester – to 540 for the second semester and then to 480 up to the thirtieth month – will not start: a lack of immediate income of 90 euros per month which will be difficult to absorb for those won’t see it.
In short, there is a cutback, the cut denounced by Podemos, but it is also true that similar “exchanges”, in this case the measure came from Nadia Calviño, former Minister of the Economy and Vice President of the Government now at the helm of the European Investment Bank, have been the practice of left-wing coalition governments in recent years. This time it was not wanted, to consolidate the autonomy of Podemos in view of Irene Montero’s candidacy in the European elections, a primary objective to be pursued at Sumar’s expense.
This is why Podemos immediately broke the voting barrier with the right. Oskar Matute, of EH Bildu, the left-wing Basque independence group that voted in favor of Díaz’s decree, underlining aspects that are “manifestly improvable, solvable in the mediation phase”, pointed this out harshly, quoting the philosopher and protagonist of the French May, Daniel Bensaïd: “We were wrong sometimes, about many things, but we never confused the trenche or the enemy.”
The PSOE’s left front is a critical point. The Podemos team, led by Ione Belarra and by Pablo Iglesias from the screens of CanalRed, is at war with Díaz. Much was wrong on both fronts in the construction of unity to the left of the PSOE, which has now completely failed. The tensions will last until next June 6 to 9, the European elections. How the government will resist and what influence they will have on the outcome of the left in crucial votes – even in Galicia Podemos is presenting itself alone – are the two great unknowns.
Pedro Sánchez has a lot to think about, and to rethink, starting with strategy. Bringing three decrees was a risky move. Perhaps he was thinking of pulling the tooth and then dedicating himself to the next demanding deadline of the budget law, but the formula of the omnibus decree is not appreciated by parliament, and with balances on the edge of a single vote, exposes it to the risks we have seen. It comes with high costs to his image and ammunition for the right on subordination to the Catalan independentists, costs which he preferred to pay, five months before the Galician and European elections. He brought home the result, put opponents and allies in difficulty, uncovered Junts’s cards and immediately exposed himself in order to keep the path of the Amnesty law in place, confirming the legend of always knowing how to land on his feet. The Dìaz decree will be recovered, but not the lack of increase in subsidies.
To Belarra and Iglesias, Sánchez points out that “in politics, personal decisions must not precede those that benefit a collective of 700 thousand people. I believe that the maxim that decisions should not be made with the gut but with the head and heart is one of the lessons that Podemos must take into consideration in this matter.”
Sánchez will take his measures, but always moves on the attack. The keys to the offensive are in today’s interview with RTVE. The news gives him possibilities. In Galicia another ecological disaster recalls the oil spill of the Prestige oil tanker shipwreck in 2002, badly managed at the time by the national and Galician PP authorities. This time the tide is white: 25 tons of plastic pellets for industrial use are washing up on the coasts.
But it is the judicial reporting that has given Sánchez heavy ammunition. Today the newspapers La Vanguardia and elDiario.es revealed the PP’s latest serious scandal. The government of Mariano Rajoy knew and directed the deviant activity of the Spanish security forces in the production of false dossiers against Catalan independence activists, which also resulted in trials and convictions. Catalonia, the left and the right are the three fronts for Pedro Sánchez, a fearless or reckless leader, and for his critics and opponents.
Cover image: Pedro Sánchez in the Senate on January 31, 2023; in the background, from left, José Manuel Albares Bueno, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, Third Vice President and Minister for the Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, Yolanda Díaz, Second Vice President and Minister of Labor; flickr La Moncloa
Translation by Paul Rosenberg
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