On Tuesday the Congress of Deputies reached near unanimity on a key issue for Spain: the policy line that will be taken in Brussels. And while expectations have faded concerning the result of the European Council meeting that is set to begin on Thursday in Brussels, the summit may mark a turning point that will be especially beneficial to economies in grave difficulties, such as the Spanish one.
Spain’s policies with regard to the EU have traditionally enjoyed the support of the majority of the parliamentary spectrum. The agreement that has been reached ahead of the summit, between six political groups that account for more than 90 percent of the votes in Congress, is doubly valuable: it conveys a message of unity and strength to other EU states, in questions as vital as employment and financial liquidity, the defense of which is all the more crucial in a context of fading expectations; and, on a domestic level, responds to the Spanish public’s desire to see its politicians working together to help the country climb out of the crisis.
The previous agreement reached between the Popular Party and the Socialists (PSOE) was sufficiently open-ended and positive to allow for endorsement from the other signatory parties: the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), the Catalan nationalist bloc (CiU), the Canaries Coalition and Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD). The procedure chosen by the two major parties — bilaterally agreeing on a text — was somewhat of a hurdle for the other groups. But in the end they have aligned themselves with the project, while adding a few changes that preserve the essential substance: the Spanish parliament’s support for the immediate release of funds to promote youth employment; for an advance in the direction of banking union, which is expected to be minimal, given the reluctance of Berlin; and for an increase in the flow of financing for small businesses and the self-employed. Splinter party UPyD, which wanted Spain to fight to have employment policies excluded from deficit calculations, endorsed the final pact, but abstained from voting.
The PSOE has found itself obliged to parry the criticism it has received for having sought agreement with the government. But it would certainly have been hard to understand a failure to support the government at a summit where — as the Socialist vice secretary Elena Valenciano proclaimed on Monday — it seems set to call a halt to its insistence on extreme austerity, and to set out on a clearly defined policy of economic incentives. This was also satisfactory for the Plural Left coalition, which did, however, remain aloof, given that it had also demanded the withdrawal of the balanced-budget constitutional amendment enacted late in the year 2011.
In any case, Mariano Rajoy’s government has scored a clear success. His clear majority would allow him to dispense with pacts of this sort; but to enjoy the assent of the opposition, and to heed the public’s demand that the parties seek general agreement, is a good strategy for defending the interests of the country. There are other political, economic and social matters — if more refractory in nature — on which it would be highly positive to try to reach a similar consensus.