Government counting on opposition support for coronavirus measures despite lack of dialogue

The Popular Party has leveled criticism against Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, but the executive still believes it will have the backing of other groups in Congress

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Monday.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Monday.Borja Puig de la Bellacasa (EFE)

The Spanish government will once again call on opposition parties in Congress to support its latest measures aimed at combating the spread of the coronavirus, easing the congestion caused by the Covid-19 disease in the country’s intensive care units, and tackling the effect the crisis is having on the Spanish economy.

This week the Cabinet approved the suspension of all non-essential activity in the country, which went into force on Monday and will be in place for two weeks. The Socialist Party (PSOE)-led coalition already secured support in Congress for the extension of the state of alarm declared more than two weeks ago, and now will seek backing for a series of other measures.

The new measures are aimed at offering financial help to those who, for example, are unable to pay their rent due to the confinement measures

The executive believes that the main opposition Popular Party (PP) has no arguments to reject these latest initiatives, and rejects the criticism that its leader, Pablo Casado, has leveled against it. Casado on Monday called the government “disloyal” and accused it of lying. He pointed to a “lack of dialogue” given that other parties were not contacted by the government before the stricter confinement was approved, and criticized the executive for “improvising” and not supplying enough information about its plans. The official state bulletin in which the list of businesses that were permitted to keep operating was not published until late on Sunday night, despite the fact that the measures went into effect on Monday.

The contact between Sánchez’s team and the opposition has been minimal. Until Monday, the prime minister had gone eight days without speaking to Casado.

Sánchez leads a minority coalition government with junior partner Unidas Podemos. Given the lack of a working majority, the prime minister needs the support of other parties in order to pass legislation. Last week, when groups such as the PP and far-right Vox backed the extension of the state of alarm until after Easter, it marked the first time that these parties had supported the government in a congressional vote. Parties that support independence for their regions, such as the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), abstained at last week’s vote.

Popular Party leader Pablo Casado.
Popular Party leader Pablo Casado.Mariscal (EFE)

Within the government, there is not much concern over the accusations leveled by the PP. The prime minister, his team and the Cabinet have been focused on the new measures that will today be taken to the weekly Cabinet meeting, and are aimed at offering financial help to those who, for example, are unable to pay their rent due to the confinement measures in place and the shutdown of all but essential business.

In this case, tenants will be offered zero-interest loans, a plan that is designed for those whose landlords own one or two properties for rent and depend on them for their income. Landlords who own a series of apartments, however, are likely to have the option of offering their tenants a four-month break on paying their rent, and later working out a repayment plan for the debt.

These and other measures were being discussed last night in the heart of the Spanish government, both from a legal and technical standpoint, sources from the executive reported. This was a way of indicating that the opposition cannot yet be informed about a plan that has yet to be finalized and that is incredibly complex.

The executive did, however, react with displeasure to the criticism and threats leveled at it by the PP leader on Monday, and has accused Pablo Casado of not being aware of the severity of the situation. The leader of center-right Ciudadanos, Inés Arrimadas, has opted for a different strategy, and has reiterated her support for the government, albeit insisting that Sánchez hold a video conference meeting with party leaders.

The government argues that none of the measures being implemented by the Cabinet break Spanish law nor are outside the scope of the Constitution

The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) has also held its hand out to the government, although it has voiced its clear rejection of the complete halt to industry that was put into place this week. Basque premier Íñigo Urkullo has expressed his anger on the basis that the closure of non-essential businesses will be particularly damaging to firms in his region, which is one of Spain’s industrial heartlands. The central government has not sought to claim otherwise, but argues that it cannot see any other way to slow down the rate of contagion.

The emergency situation has led the government to believe that the PP will, in the end, support its latest measures.

None of the measures being implemented by the Cabinet break Spanish law nor are outside the scope of the Constitution, the government has argued in the wake of the debate opened by the PP with its criticism. A message posted on Twitter by Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias, of Unidas Podemos, in which he stated that “the wealth of a country is subordinate to the general interest,” has added fuel to the fire of the claims that Prime Minister Sánchez is pitting the public sector against the private with his measures. But Iglesias’s tweet was not a political declaration, but rather a reminder of Article 128 of the Spanish Constitution.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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