The rejection of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s 2019 budget plan has forced his Socialist Party (PSOE) government to call a general election for April 28. Eight-and-a-half months after he took power, thanks to a motion of no confidence, Sánchez is bringing an end to the shortest mandate since Spain returned to democracy in the late 1970s.
What began in June of last year as an ambitious project, with a Cabinet where women were in the majority, has not been able to survive governing in a minority, given the conditions that the parties that support Catalan independence imposed on the prime minister in return for keeping him in power.
A large number of projects will now fall by the wayside. The intention of Sánchez’s government was, right from the start, to see out the legislature until 2020, and he announced a raft of policies and measures that he intended to pass through Congress in the coming months. Now they will be put on standby, ahead of the result of the elections. Here are some of those key policies:
The budget. A large part of the ambitions and government projects of the government were contained within the 2019 budget plan, which was rejected in Congress on Tuesday by opposition parties. Sánchez had reached a deal with left-wing Unidos Podemos in October on the spending plans, and had framed them on a number of occasions as “packed with social values and huge common sense.” He argued that they would not only help economic growth and job creation, but also allow Spain to comply with the deficit and public debt targets imposed on it by Brussels. (There were, however, doubts about this on the part of the European Union.)
The exhumation of Franco. It is not clear at this point whether the government will have time to exhume the former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco from the Valley of the Fallen monument, which is located around 55 kilometers from Madrid. The government is due on Friday to give the order to move Franco from his current location, and give his family 15 days to choose a new resting place. The insistence of the Franco family that he should be relocated to the central La Almudena cathedral, and the legal appeals that they are filing against the exhumation plan, could mean more delays to the plan.
Limits to immunity for politicians. The government announced in November that it would use a reform to the Constitution to limit the number and type of immunities enjoyed by politicians in Spain. Currently, deputies in Congress and other officials are immune to prosecution from the lower courts. However, his plan did not receive support from other parties in Congress, and reaching consensus to make a constitutional change appears now to be an impossible task.
The “Gag Law.” Spain’s so-called “Gag Law” was passed by the Popular Party (PP) administration of Mariano Rajoy, and introduced a series of restrictions related to public protests and taking photos of the Spanish authorities, to name just two elements of the legislation. Parliamentary groups reached an agreement last week so that the recording and publication of images of the authorities as they carried out their duties would no longer be an offense, and nor would the rapid calling of a demonstration. These modifications to the Citizen Safety Law, to give the legislation its full name, will now not have time to pass through Congress.
Climate change and energy transition. The Cabinet is due on February 22 to approve a range of measures aimed at combating climate change. But due to a number of delays, many of these measures will not come into force. A national plan on energy and the climate should have been sent to the European Commission by December 31. The document sets out the future of coal and nuclear power in Spain, and the speed with which renewables will be introduced up to the year 2030. The plan, which is due to be approved soon, does not have to get the blessing of parliament. Meanwhile, a draft law on climate change is due to be approved on February 22. But unless it is urgently rushed through Congress, it will take five months to be approved. This will most likely mean that Spain will see out another legislature without having a climate change law.
Health. A plan from the PSOE to create a euthanasia law in Spain has been held up in Congress by the PP and Ciudadanos. A law covering palliative care is currently waiting to pass through the Senate, meaning it could change depending on the outcome of the upcoming elections. A royal decree that ensured that everyone in Spain could have access to healthcare was approved by the Cabinet last July, but went no further given the government’s decision to pass it as a law instead. The draft legislation has not yet begun its passage through Congress.
Protection of children. A law that would have increased the protection of children and adolescents from violence was one of Sánchez’s key commitments when he came to power. But this legislation will not now have time to pass through Congress. The draft law included increasing the age from which the statute of limitations would be applied for cases of sexual abuse against minors. Under the plan, the clock would start ticking when the victim turned 30 and not 18, as is the case right now.
With reporting from María Sosa, Isabel Valdés, Ana Torres, Nuño Domínguez, Manuel Planelles, Emilio de Benito and Ana Roca.
English version by Simon Hunter.