Socialist premier of Andalusia announces he is to step down

José Antonio Griñán to hand over power as ERE investigation widens Regional leader will leave post on August 27 for “personal and family reasons”

The leader of the Andalusia Socialists during an emotional farewell speech on Wednesday.
The leader of the Andalusia Socialists during an emotional farewell speech on Wednesday.Julian Rojas (EL PAÍS)

Andalusia’s Socialist premier, José Antonio Griñán, has finally confirmed the rumors: he will resign from his post following the first Cabinet meeting after the summer break on August 27. Griñán subsequently unveiled Susana Díaz, the current Cabinet and equality chief, as his successor.

In a press conference Wednesday, Griñán, 67, said that “personal and family motives” were the most determining factors for stepping down early. The opposition, however, feels that it is because of the ERE scandal that has rocked the Andalusian Socialists, who have governed the southern region for the last three decades. The judge in charge of the massive embezzlement case has already indicted 20 current or former regional government officials, including a public works chief, and some observers feel Griñán could be next.

The premier will walk away just one-and-a-half years after taking office in the wake of elections that were technically won by the opposition Popular Party (PP).

An alliance between the Socialists and the United Left coalition gave the premiership to Griñán, whose term should have ended in 2016.

Socialist leaders claim that the judge has a hidden agenda against the party

But Griñán surprised even his own party by calling express primaries last month to back his choice of replacement candidate for the next regional elections, Susana Díaz. With that formality out of the way, it was a matter of days before Griñán announced his own departure from government. At Wednesday’s press conference the premier rejected the idea of calling early elections in the region, as the PP has demanded.

So far, former regional public works chief Magdalena Álvarez is the highest-ranking official to be targeted by an investigation into an alleged long-running fraud case involving an Andalusia government fund used to help pay jobless benefits at struggling companies conducting labor adjustment plans (or EREs, in Spanish). As much as 140 million euros may have been misused between 2001 and 2010.

Griñán’s press conference comes just one day before a key witness is scheduled to testify in the ERE case. The statements by Manuel Gómez, a former regional comptroller, could tip the scale in favor of adding the premier to the list of official suspects since the audit body he presided, the Intervención, issued as many as 15 reports alerting regional authorities to the irregularities in the awarding of subsidies at a time when Griñán was Andalusia’s finance chief and should have been overseeing these matters.

In his address to the media, Griñán acknowledged the ERE case, saying he feels there are no valid “juridical or jurisdictional” reasons to make him a target of the investigation, but he admitted it has affected him at a personal level, “especially the lies.”

He also said that “the calendar was already written” and that nobody is “going to write the agenda” of the Socialist Party or the Andalusian government, a clear reference to investigating Judge Mercedes Alaya, whom Socialist leaders claim has a hidden agenda against them.

Elena Valenciano, deputy secretary general of the Socialist Party, has been especially vocal in her suggestions that Judge Alaya times all her big moves to coincide with major events in the Andalusian Socialists’ agenda. “If you consult the papers, you see it is rather Alaya’s announcements that coincide with the government’s schedule,” she said in an interview on RNE.

Valenciano also held that party leaders were not surprised at Griñán’s announcement that he was leaving before the end of his mandate. “We shared his decisions with regard to his continuity on a minute-by-minute basis, and we knew he was going to announce this,” she said. After hearing his motives, Valenciano said that Griñán’s decision is “very positive” for Andalusia.

Yet one of the most disconcerting aspects of Griñán’s announcement is that, less than a month ago, he himself had rejected the notion of stepping down ahead of time.

On Wednesday, the veteran politician added that it was not his intention to resign from his two positions within the Socialist Party — regional secretary of the Andalusian branch and president of the federal organization.

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