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Tailor-made centrism

New Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has constructed a government loyal to him

Mariano Rajoy announced the makeup of his new government without any prior leak of information regarding its structure or its members and their responsibilities. By displaying this kind of reserve, the newly elected prime minister apparently meant to convey a dual message: one of discipline around his person, and one of respect for institutional procedure. The first was necessary for a leader who, following his 2008 defeat, found a major political front forming against him within his own party. The second seems aimed at correcting the display of high-handedness that defined executive appointments under the previous Popular Party (PP) leader, José María Aznar, as well as the rushed manners displayed by the Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

The chief trait of the new government structure is not so much the reduction in portfolios, which was minimal compared with what had been expected, but rather the attempt at reinstating a classic structure of government to address the various areas of management. Rajoy avoided assigning entire departments to specific problems to underscore their political relevance, as Zapatero did with the ministries of Housing and Equality. Yet while Rajoy merged the responsibilities of education, culture and sports into the same portfolio, using a time-honored formula, he chose to separate the economy and the treasury. In other economic areas, he re-established the Ministry of Agriculture and kept Public Works, Industry and Labor, even if the latter has changed names to Employment. There will be a single deputy prime minister, besides consolidated departments such as Foreign Affairs, Defense, Justice and the Interior.

The executive structure designed by Rajoy simplifies management in that, in principle at least, it seems designed to avoid interferences among the ministries by shying away from a combination of functional and transversal criteria. The economic crisis was one of the drivers that encouraged the separation of Economy and Treasury, thus underscoring the importance of implementing a comprehensive economic strategy of which fiscal policy is just one branch, albeit a very relevant one.

Although both departments appear to be on equal footing, at least on paper, the Economy and Competitiveness Ministry will foreseeably end up carrying more weight than the Treasury department - especially considering that Rajoy has only appointed one single deputy prime minister, whose role is more political than economic.


The team at the helm of these various responsibilities is made up entirely of individuals who are close to the new premier. The only news here is the fact that most people were not aware of how much trust Rajoy placed in the people now running the Foreign, Employment and Education Ministries. All of them are seasoned managers at various levels of government, perhaps with the sole exception of the new deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, who is nevertheless well versed in parliamentary work. In what constitutes Rajoy's most personal appointment, Sáenz de Santamaría already stands out as the strongwoman in the new executive.

Rajoy had repeatedly said that it was his intention to act independently when appointing his first government, and indeed he did not take gender or territorial quotas into consideration, no doubt to distance himself from the choices that ended up costing Zapatero so dearly.

On the other hand, the new government has a decidedly middle-of-the-spectrum feel to it, another distancing factor from the earlier PP government that rose to power in 1996 under Aznar. Rajoy has created a tailor-made government for himself, and all that is left for him to do now is to confirm with his actions and his attitude what, for now, remains nothing more than an image. He faces a country concerned by the crisis and waiting to learn more about his plans.

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