How far are Sánchez and Iglesias willing to go?

Spain’s coalition government, led by Sánchez and Iglesias with the backing of Catalonia’s separatists, has brought about a historic shift that is full of unknowns

At last Spain has a government: a progressive coalition between the PSOE and Unidas Podemos. It is the first coalition cabinet since the start of the 1978 regime. PM Pedro Sánchez secured the necessary parliamentary majority thanks to the Basque nationalist parties (the PNB’s representatives voted in favour and Bildu’s abstained) and Catalonia’s secessionists, with ERC’s abstention. Undoubtedly, this represents an unprecedented change, a paradigm shift that, nevertheless, comes surrounded by unknowns amidst the irate reaction of Spain’s parties on the right, which is dangerously reminiscent of the 1930s of the last century, both in its style and content.

Caught in the wake of Vox, the Spanish far right’s rising star, the PP and Ciudadanos have given up any attempt to seize the political centre and instead they present themselves as the saviours of the homeland, which they interpret in an exclusivist, restrictive and ideologically regressive manner, with a spirit that is diametrically opposed to what you might expect from a mature, liberal democracy. So much so that they have decided to expel the socialist party from the constitutional consensus and are attempting to capitalise on the Spanish king, Felipe VI, and use him as a throwing weapon. This does an unfortunate disservice to the monarch who has, on his own merit, ceased to be a neutral pillar of the State to become another player in a mad, all-out war.

One thing is clear after the rowdy parliamentary debate that culminated in the re-election of socialist PM Pedro Sánchez: a yawning political chasm has opened in Spain. If we take the regrettable spectacle in Spain’s lower chamber seriously, this chasm carries with it a dangerous Civil War spirit. Once again, the two quarrelling sides are raising their heads in Spain, with the right warning of the red, separatist danger. It is as if we were stuck in a time loop. Four decades of parliamentary democracy, devolved regional powers and European integration do not appear to have changed some mindsets. It is difficult to picture a future of detente, let alone concord.

All in all, we are experiencing a dual moment. On the one hand a window of hope has opened up and we ought to make the most of it. On the other hand, the furious reaction of the political right is ominous. On this point, the pledges made by a volatile Pedro Sánchez to Podemos (his left-wing ally) and Catalonia’s secessionists are also ambivalent. He had no choice. And we shall see in what way the agreements materialise. In the case of the Catalan separatists, they needed to give dialogue a chance, but ERC itself remains logically skeptical about them. How far will PM Sánchez dare to go in order to tackle the Catalan independence issue? To what extent will the hysteria of the conservatives and their media influence him? And there is yet another variable: the new time that has just begun will hardly be fruitful until the political situation in Catalonia becomes clear. The Catalan government is hanging by a thread —with its president, Quim Torra, about to be removed from office— and the existence of political prisoners and exiles remains a serious democratic anomaly.

Indeed, Spain has a government, but it remains to be seen whether it will provide a modicum of stability and whether it will truly deal with the Catalan feud.

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