Conservatives regain control of Madrid City Hall with help from the far right

José Luis Martínez-Almeida of the Popular Party has become mayor with support from Vox, after negotiations that went right down to the wire

Deputy mayor Begoña Villacís, from Ciudadanos, and Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida.
Deputy mayor Begoña Villacís, from Ciudadanos, and Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida.KIKE PARA

The Popular Party (PP) has regained control of the city of Madrid after a four-year hiatus marked by the leftist policies of Manuela Carmena.

The conservatives reached an eleventh-hour deal with the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) on Friday night, and struck an additional agreement with the far-right Vox at around 4am on Saturday – just hours before mayors were due to take their oaths across Spain.

Former mayor Manuela Carmena.
Former mayor Manuela Carmena.EFE

The negotiations allowed José Luis Martínez-Almeida, whose party obtained its worst results ever in Madrid at the May 26 election, to take over from Carmena on a promise to undo many of her initiatives.

In her farewell address, the outgoing mayor urged people to “take care of democracy” because achieving it cost “effort and lives.”

While similar in substance, the PP’s agreements with Ciudadanos and with Vox differ on a few significant points: in the deal struck with the latter, gender violence is rebranded as “intra-family violence,” all mentions of gay pride celebrations and “LGTBI diversity” are gone, and Carmena’s signature project Madrid Central – a low-emissions area in the city center – is singled out for elimination.

Macron wants explanations

Marc Bassets, Paris

The party of French President Emmanuel Macron plans to call on the members of the European Parliament from the Spanish Ciudadanos (Citizens) group to clarify exactly what its relationship is with the far-right Vox.

The announcement came on Sunday from the French secretary of state for European affairs, Amélie de Montchalin, in response to the deals that Ciudadanos has been doing with Vox in the wake of inconclusive local and regional elections held in Spain on May 26. "We are calling on the MEPs from Ciudadanos to clarify their situation with [Vox]," Montchalin wrote via Twitter on Sunday.

Macron’s party, La République En Marche! (LREM), is allied with Ciudadanos in the European Parliament as part of the ALDE group, and it has been warning about “red lines”ever since the Popular Party (PP), Ciudadanos and Vox reached a deal to form a regional government in Andalusia.

Ciudadanos has so far been the Spanish party with the closest relationship to the LREM. Both are young groups created with a centrist, liberal outlook. But the emergence of Vox in Spain, and the party’s role in helping form governments across the country, has prompted Macron’s followers to distance themselves from any Ciudadanos-Vox deals.

The PP needed the four votes from Vox, besides the 11 from Ciudadanos, to add to its own 15 and achieve the 29-seat threshold for an absolute majority inside the city council.

Carmena, a 75-year-old former judge, said it was “a democratic paradox” that her party cannot govern despite winning the May election. In 2015 her Ahora Madrid group technically earned one seat fewer than the PP, but she became mayor through an alliance with the Socialist Party (PSOE), which gave her a combined 29 seats.

In her Saturday address, Carmena also had words for the feminist movement, which she described as “the biggest revolution to take place in the world without a drop of violence.”

A new PSOE councilor, former basketball national team coach Pepu Hernández, voiced existing concern about seeing Vox in Spain’s institutions, after the far-right party burst onto the political stage in December of last year at the Andalusian elections.

“Madrid is much more modern and advanced than the government that is being formed here today: this is a government of the past,” said Hernández, who admonished the PP for whitewashing Vox and letting it share power. The Socialist councilor pledged to defend gender equality “and the freedom to love whomever we please.”

But the new mayor challenged the opposition “to find, in any of these two programs, anything that falls outside the legal framework we have given ourselves in Spain.”

Almeida, whose party had governed Madrid for 24 straight years before Carmena’s term, thanked his new partners for enabling “a liberal, center-right government focused on the people,” and said his management will be defined by “efficiency and effectiveness.”

Begoña Villacís of Ciudadanos, who will be the deputy mayor, said that “the main thing, in this new era where absolute majorities have ended, is not who signs the deal, but what is signed in the deal.” Her party agreed to support the PP but only as long as Vox is not given any executive power over departments or city districts.

“I would like for people to say, four years from now, that Madrid has a common-sense, liberal government,” she added.

Who gets what

PP. Besides the mayor's office, the conservatives get the departments of treasury; health, security and emergencies; culture, tourism and sports; environment and mobility; and construction work and equipment. And PP councilors will control the districts of Centro, Arganzuela, Salamanca, Chamartín, Tetuán, Chamberí, Fuencarral-El Pardo, Moncloa-Aravaca, Carabanchel, Usera, Puente de Vallecas, and Moratalaz.

Ciudadanos. The deputy mayor will be Begoña Villacís. The reform party also gets the departments of economy, innovation and employment; sustainable development (which includes urban planning); and family, equality and social welfare. Ciudadanos will also be in charge of the following city districts: Retiro, Latina, Ciudad Lineal, Hortaleza, Villaverde, Villa de Vallecas, Vicálvaro, San Blas-Canillejas and Barajas.

Vox. While Vox does not get to head any departments, it is expected to be given control of a few district presidencies. Vox has demanded to be represented proportionally to the number of council seats it holds across Spain. In Madrid, there are four Vox councilors.

English version by Susana Urra.

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