House speaker warns of “serious conflict” with acting government

Congress could take executive before Constitutional Court for refusing to submit to oversight

House speaker Patxi López (center) says there could be a serious political conflict in store.
House speaker Patxi López (center) says there could be a serious political conflict in store.Uly Martín

The inability of Spain’s politicians to agree on a new prime minister could lead to yet another problem in the coming days.

Congressional speaker Patxi López, a Socialist, warned on Tuesday about the risk of a “serious institutional conflict” between the lower house and the acting government of Mariano Rajoy, of the Popular Party (PP).

The trouble stems from the fact that the Legislature wants to control the government’s actions through regular question times, but the government refuses to submit to such oversight.

It is unheard of for a government to declare itself in contempt of Congress

Antonio Hernando, Socialist Party

Rajoy and his team feel that a caretaker government should only submit to the courts, not to the current parliament that emerged from the inconclusive December 20 elections. They say that never in constitutional history was there a question time in Congress before a new prime minister had taken his oath of office.

This argument has already been used by the PP to prevent Rajoy from appearing in Congress to explain the content of several European Union meetings, including one involving a controversial plan to send all Syrian refugees landing in Greece back to Turkey.

Similarly, the government is rejecting calls to have acting Defense Minister Pedro Morenés appear before the Defense Committee on Thursday.

Congressional speaker Patxi López has sent acting Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría a letter asking her team to reconsider its refusal.

López did not say what steps will be taken if the government continues to refuse, but he suggested the possibility of taking the issue to the Constitutional Court on the basis of a “conflict of attributions.”

This legal concept, said López, aims to ensure that one institution does not prevent another  from performing its duties – in this case, the caretaker government would be preventing the Legislature from doing its job properly.

But even if this step were taken, a decision would not be handed down before the dissolution of parliament on May 2 – if no prime minister is found before then.

“It is unheard of for a government to declare itself in contempt of Congress,” said the Socialist deputy Antonio Hernando.

Uncharted waters

Hernando added that the agenda for the plenary session of March 29 will include an appearance by Mariano Rajoy to explain the content of two recent European Council meetings. If positions do not change between now and then, Rajoy will not show up, leading Spanish politics into uncharted territory.

The inconclusive election of December 20 created a fragmented political scenario in which no party or group of parties has so far managed enough clout to secure a parliamentary majority and form a government.

The only nominee to try, the Socialist Pedro Sánchez, failed to attract enough votes at a recent investiture debate. If no successful candidate emerges in the coming weeks, Spain will be forced to hold a fresh election in late June.

English version by Susana Urra.

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