Socialist chief asked PM not to pass new laws before general election

Lunch meeting between Pedro Sánchez and Mariano Rajoy went “very badly,” say sources

Javier Casqueiro
Mariano Rajoy standing in Congress in February.
Mariano Rajoy standing in Congress in February.Claudio Alvarez

Relations between the ruling Popular Party (PP) and the main opposition Socialists are cooler than ever after a meeting between party leaders that was supposed to help them find common ground.

It did not help that Socialist secretary general Pedro Sánchez publicly demanded a change in government policy right before heading to last Wednesday’s encounter. This went down “very badly” among top aides to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, said sources familiar with the situation.

Over lunch, Sánchez asked Rajoy not to push any last-minute legislation through parliament before it is dissolved ahead of this fall’s general elections. He allegedly warned that if he did, a Socialist administration would immediately repeal those laws if it came to power.

Socialist sources explained that Sánchez only asked Rajoy to halt three legal changes in the pipeline, and to refrain from tweaking the abortion law.

Following the lunch, neither the government nor the PP provided any official information about the encounter, other than the fact that it had taken place. But sources close to both leaders said that it went “very badly, especially considering what Rajoy was expecting.”

He came to a lunch meeting with Rajoy just to earn brownie points for his dinner with Iglesias”

José Luis Ayllón, secretary of state for parliamentary relations

In recent days, the leaders of the four best-performing parties at the May 24 local and regional elections – the PP, Socialists, Podemos and Ciudadanos – have been meeting with one another to hammer out investiture deals aimed at taking control of city councils and regional assemblies where nobody has an absolute majority.

A leftist alliance of Socialists and the Podemos-backed bloc Ahora Madrid is expected to take over Madrid City Hall despite the fact that the PP narrowly won the municipal election. This sort of deal has led to PP leaders accusing the Socialists of drifting towards “the radical left.”

PP leaders have gone so far as to make Sánchez responsible for any potential damage to Spain, including a hypothetical freeze on foreign investment.

On the same day that Sánchez had lunch with Rajoy, he dined with the leader of anti-austerity party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, a fact that also drew ire from PP quarters.

“He came to a lunch meeting with Rajoy just to earn brownie points for his dinner with Iglesias,” said José Luis Ayllón, the secretary of state for parliamentary relations. “The Socialists are giving away their votes to Podemos in exchange for nothing in places where [the anti-austerity party] is the main opposition force, and begging for Podemos’s votes where they are the main opposition force.”

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But sources close to Sánchez deny that the Socialist leader demanded a freeze on all laws making their way through parliament, and only asked to halt three bills: a new financial system for the Balearic Islands, the deregulation of the railway system, and civil service reforms.

He also asked Rajoy not to alter abortion legislation to prevent 16- and 17-year-olds from terminating their pregnancies without parental consent, as is the conservative party’s intention, the same sources said.

While general elections are expected to take place in November, no official date has yet been announced. Some Socialist sources posited that Rajoy may want to bring them forward to contain the loss of votes he is anticipating.

But PP and government sources privately said that the prime minister had no intention of doing that, especially since Catalonia is holding its own regional elections in September and it would be detrimental for both to coincide.

Meanwhile, the government is making the most of what is left of this term by scheduling three plenary sessions in July, senatorial commissions in August, and two more plenary sessions in September before parliament is dissolved on the 19th or 20th.

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