When Pedro Sánchez came to power in Spain five years ago, even his allies doubted that his coalition government — the first and most left-wing since the Civil War — could last. Yet with the support of far-left populists, former communists and Basque and Catalan separatists, Sánchez has been able to enact a throng of progressive reforms.
Sánchez has a knack for defying the odds, as I told Pratik Chougule on the Star Spangled Gamblers podcast. He was ousted by his party after losing the 2015 and 2016 elections, but avenged himself in the 2017 primary. He plotted the first successful vote of no-confidence against a sitting prime minister the following year and has managed to stay in power since despite never winning an outright majority.
The social democrat’s luck may finally run out. Polls for the general election next month, which Sánchez brought forward from December after his coalition parties lost the municipal and regional elections in May, point to a victory for the conservative People’s Party and far-right Vox (Voice).
At the risk of writing Sánchez’ political obituary too soon, here is a look back at what he has achieved as prime minister.
- Passed a law declaring animals “sentient beings”.
- Drafted a bill to raise penalties for abandoning, abusing or euthanizing otherwise healthy animals.
This may not get through Congress if the pro-bullfighting Vox comes to power.
- Required cameras in slaughterhouses.
Climate and energy
Sánchez funneled 40 percent of Spain’s €70 billion EU COVID-19 rescue funds into climate-related spending, including:
- €13.2 billion for sustainable mobility, including electric charging stations, low-emission zones in cities and rail.
- €7.8 billion for energy efficiency in housing.
- €6.1 billion for clean energy.
Spain is already the largest generator of wind power in the EU after Germany. Abundant solar and wind are meant to make Spain a hub for the generation of green hydrogen.
Last year, renewables met 42 percent of Spain’s electricity needs. The share is expected to surpass 50 percent this year and rise to 74 percent by 2030.
- Raised the minimum wage to €1,080 per month.
- Reduced severance pay from 45 to 33 days of salary for every year of employment.
- Made ERTE permanent.
ERTE, Spain’s version of Kurzarbeit, allows companies to reduce working hours or altogether dismiss employees during an economic downturn with the government making up the difference in wages. It is credited for preventing higher unemployment during the pandemic.
- Gave contractors the same collective bargaining rights as employees.
- Restored sectoral over business-wide bargaining agreements.
- Restricted the use of temporary work contracts.
The previous, conservative government weakened collective bargaining rights and liberalized temp work.
Temporary contracts fell by 1.2 million in 2022, the year after Sánchez’ reforms (details here). Permanent contracts rose by 1.6 million. Formerly one in two working Spaniards under the age of 35 had a permanent work contract. Now 80 percent does.
Unemployment, at 13 percent, is above the European average but low by Spanish standards. (Official Spanish employment figures should always be taken with a grain of salt: the country almost certainly has a larger share of undeclared labor than northern EU member states.)
55 percent of the net increase in employment since 2019, the first full year Sánchez was in power, has been in the public sector.
- Required all public hospitals to offer abortions.
Eight in ten abortions happen in private clinics. Some doctors in public hospitals refuse to terminate pregnancies, citing their religious beliefs.
All Spaniards are automatically enrolled in the public health-care system, but those who can afford it buy private insurance.
- Banned “gay conversion therapy”.
- Allowed 16 year-olds to legally change their gender.
Younger teenagers need the approval of a parent or guardian.
- Legalized euthanasia for the terminally ill.
Since legalization, on average twenty Spaniards per month have been euthanized, or seven out of every 10,000 deaths. The process, from application to death, takes five to six weeks.
The People’s Party and Vox would overturn the gender-change and euthanasia laws.
- Capped rent increases at 3 percent through 2025.
- Cut taxes by 10 percent for landlords who voluntarily reduce rents in the most expensive regions (Catalonia, Madrid and the southern coast).
Spaniards pay €11.30 per square meter on average, up from €9.50 five years ago. The regions of Catalonia and Madrid are far more expensive with average rents of €14.80 per square meter.
- Gave local governments the power to impose a 50-percent subcharge on properties that are left vacant and undeveloped for two years.
- Increased the share of rent-protected housing from 30 to 40 percent in new developments, and from 10 to 20 percent in redevelopments.
The goal is build 43,000 more rent-protected homes.
- Converted 50,000 foreclosed homes managed by Spain’s government-owned “bad bank” Sareb into affordable housing.
Sánchez is taking €4 billion from Spain’s EU COVID-19 rescue program to lend to developers and homeowners.
- Guaranteed up to 20 percent of mortgages taken out by Spaniards under the age of 35 and parents earning under €37,800 per year (double for couples).
Researchers at Spain’s BBVA bank expect that housing transactions will fall 30 percent this year due to lower economic growth, higher interest rates and reduced savings.
ING, a Dutch bank which also operates in Spain, isn’t so sure, pointing out that, compared to other eurozone countries, Spain’s economy and population are growing faster, sustaining demand for mortgages.
- Abolished the crime of sedition.
Nine Catalan leaders, including seven former regional ministers, were convicted of sedition in 2019 for organizing an illegal independence referendum in 2017. Their prison sentences ranged from nine to thirteen years. Sánchez pardoned all nine and abolished sedition as a crime, making Spain one of the last European countries to do so.
- Restored official dialogue with the government of Catalonia.
Sánchez has relied on the support of Catalonia’s left-wing separatist party for his majority in Congress; the same party which governs the region. But the “dialogue” between the two — while an improvement from the no-talk approach of Sánchez’ conservative predecessor — has yielded few concrete results beyond giving Catalonia the right to award its own university scholarships.
- Overturned a “gag law” that banned demonstrations outside parliament and taking pictures of police.
- Updated the 2007 Historic Memory Law to retroactively pardon victims of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship and make the state responsible for exhuming mass graves.
Some 114,000 Spaniards disappeared during the Civil War and Franco’s regime, which lasted through his death in 1975. Nonprofit associations have worked to recover and identify remains from mass graves.
The revised law still prohibits the prosecution of officials who participated in Franco’s crimes. The People’s Party and Vox would nevertheless overturn it.
- Banned the advertising of sex work.
- Drafted a law that would fine clients of sex workers and jail primps.
The People’s Party is for it, but Sánchez’ left-wing coalition partners have doubts.
- Lowered tax on incomes under €200,000 from 27 to 26 percent, and on incomes up to €300,000 from 28 to 26 percent.
- Lowered income tax for nonresidents from 24 percent — 19 percent for EU citizens — to 15 percent.
- Raised taxes in 2023 and 2024 on earnings over €3 million from 45 to 47 percent.
- Raised tax on capital gains over €200,000 from 23 to 26 percent.
- Imposed a 15-percent minimum corporate tax on the largest 1,070 companies.
- Raised taxes on banks by €1.5 billion and large energy companies by €2 billion.
- Reduced corporate tax for startups from 25 to 15 percent.
- Raised the tax deduction for investments in startups from €60,000 to €100,000.
- Temporarily suspended sales tax on basic goods.
- Raised taxes on alcohol and tobacco.