Analysis

Sánchez Does Budget Deal with Left-Wing, Separatist Allies

The same parties voted him into office.

Pedro Sánchez
Prime Ministers António Costa of Portugal, Pedro Sánchez of Spain and Stefan Löfven of Sweden attend a meeting of European socialist party leaders in Brussels, October 15 (PES)

I doubt Pedro Sánchez reads this blog, but I’m glad he’s taken my advice.

Almost three months ago, I urged the Spanish prime minister to remember who his friends were. The social democrat was trying to do a spending deal with center-right parties. The far-left Podemos (We Can) and Basque and Catalan parties that voted him into office were starting to feel overlooked.

It is with those parties Sánchez has now reached an agreement on next year’s budget, which includes major tax increases to finance deficit spending and investments in health and unemployment insurance.

The liberal-nationalist Ciudadanos (Citizens), despite moving back to the center following a disappointing election result, balked at joining a deal with Catalonia’s Republican Left, a separatist party. The Citizens oppose Catalan nationalism.

The conservative People’s Party and far-right Vox (Voice) were never going to give Sánchez a win.

Podemos, the Republican Left, the centrist Basque Nationalist Party and the left-wing EH Bildu give Sánchez a majority of 179 out of 350 seats in Congress.

Concessions

Under the terms of the deal with the Republican Left, limits on the spending power of the Catalan government imposed by Sánchez’ right-wing predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, will be lifted.

A law establishing Castilian as the “language of instruction” across Spain is also due to be overturned.

Although more residents of Catalonia speak Castilian than Catalan as their first language, education in the region is primarily in Catalan — to the dismay of Spanish nationalists.

There is also talk of reforming the sedition law under which nine leading separatists, including former members of the Catalan regional government, were imprisoned last year for organizing a referendum on independence the Constitutional Court had declared illegal.

Talks about transferring more autonomy to Catalonia, for example, giving the region the same tax power as the Basque Country, are on hold due to COVID-19.

Risky

Such concessions are vital to the Republican Left, which is competing with hardline separatists in Catalonia. Polls suggest it will place first in next year’s regional election, but with only 23-25 percent support.

But they are risky for Sánchez. Most Spaniards believe Catalonia has too much self-government, not too little. It’s why I still fear Catalonia and Spain are reaching the breaking point.

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