Spain has done well under Pedro Sánchez. The economy is projected to grow 2 percent this year and next, faster than the EU average. Unemployment is at its lowest since 2008. Inflation is down from 8 to under 3 percent. Spaniards pay almost the lowest energy bills in Europe. Renewables provide 50 percent of Spain’s electricity.
Sánchez, a social democrat who governs with the far left, has protected Spaniards from the worst effects of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine by temporarily reducing sales tax on food and fuel and by paying the wages of workers who lost their jobs. He has invested 40 percent of Spain’s EU COVID-19 recovery funds into green projects.
He has also made structural reforms, like raising the minimum wage and reducing severance pay. He cut taxes for small businesses and incomes under €300,000, and paid for it by raising taxes on capital gains and incomes over €3 million.
The left-wing coalition government — the first since the Civil War — banned “gay conversion therapy”, legalized euthanasia for the terminally ill and required slaughterhouses to install cameras.
The alternative is far worse
Sánchez is not a liberal. He also capped rent increases, made it almost impossible to evict non-paying renters, gave contractors the same collective bargaining rights as employees and reined in the use of temporary work contracts. Some 20,000 freelancers have quit. Half the job growth since Sánchez came to power has been in the public sector.
But the alternative is worse. Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the leader of Spain’s conservative People’s Party (PP), would put a tax on solar panels, lower taxes for corporations but not startups, most likely weaken euthanasia rights and ban gender changes under the age of 18 without a parent’s approval.
If Feijóo forms a government with the far-right Vox (Voice), Spain would be taken back in time. Vox doesn’t believe human activity is causing global warming. It would abolish gay marriage, recriminalize abortion and repeal animal-rights and environmental regulations in the food industry. The party’s priority is defunding the self-governments of the Basque Country and Catalonia. It would ban independence referendums, but hold a national referendum on banning separatist parties.
The result could only be an uprising in Catalonia. Vox leader Santiago Abascal would respond to unrest with a “sustained, lasting intervention” to “convince” the people of Catalonia that independence is hopeless. That sounds like an occupation.
Feijóo maintains his preference is for a minority government. Even if that’s true, many in his party would welcome a deal with Vox. It would give them the chance to pull public funding from the exhumation of mass graves from the Civil War and dictatorship. The conservatives demanded the resignation of Spain’s public television chief after one of her interviewers asked Feijóo tough questions. The PP and Vox already govern three Spanish regions and 140 cities and towns.
Vote for regional parties is risky
In the last election, the Atlantic Sentinel advised voters to give regional parties the balance of power in Congress. At the time, polls had Sánchez comfortably in first place and we hoped a strong regional bloc would force him to devolve more powers to Catalonia.
He has done the bare minimum: pardoning the former Catalan ministers who were imprisoned for organizing an independence referendum in 2017 and abolishing one of the crimes for which they were convicted. (The PP and Vox would bring back “sedition”.)
But Sánchez reneged on a promise to fund more Catalan-language film and TV, and he blocked a congressional inquiry into the revelation that 65 Catalans, including the regional president, had their phones tapped by Spain’s national security agency.
He made no proposals to give Catalonia fiscal autonomy, like the Basque Country, or sort out overlapping powers between the national and regional governments, for example in housing.
A vote for regional parties is riskier this time. The PP has always opposed home rule in Spain’s regions. Vox would abolish it. Both oppose the use of regional languages in the civil service and schools.
The only national party with the right idea is Sumar (Unite), which includes Sánchez’ current coalition partner, Podemos (We Can), and the Communists: negotiate more autonomy and let Catalans decide in a referendum whether to accept it. But the rest of their program is too left-wing for our tastes. The best hope is a continuation of the outgoing government, and the best chance for that is by voting for Sánchez.