CORONAVIRUS

Spanish government proposes new national pact for coronavirus recovery effort

After overnight deaths reach a new peak, the executive is also considering extending the state of alarm until April 26

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (l) and Popular Party leader Pablo Casado in February.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (l) and Popular Party leader Pablo Casado in February.Julián Rojas

The Spanish government is trying to reduce the political tension ahead of an increasingly likely extension of the state of alarm, a move that could keep citizens at home until at least April 26.

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said on Thursday that the decision will be made “on a scientific basis” informed by the advice of medical experts, depending on what the evolving scenario looks like around the current deadline of April 12.

People have been mostly confined to their homes since March 14 in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which has hit Spain harder than most countries. On Thursday, the death toll passed 10,000, representing 20% of all declared coronavirus fatalities in the world. A new record for overnight deaths was also set, with 950 victims in a 24-hour period.

A new national pact

The coalition government headed by Pedro Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE) has been seeking congressional support ahead of the session that will vote on the extension to the state of alarm. Beyond this, the executive has also suggested the need for a sweeping cross-party deal to address the crisis, styled after the Moncloa Pacts of 1977 that produced a national socioeconomic recovery program and shored up Spain’s transition to democracy.

Sánchez’s way of dealing with the coronavirus crisis is “an explosive cocktail of arrogance, incompetence and lies,” says PP chief Pablo Casado

But so far the opposition has given little indication that it is willing to enter into such a national pact. The conservative Popular Party (PP) and the far-right Vox have been intensifying their criticism of the executive, and on Thursday PP leader Pablo Casado described the prime minister as a combination of “arrogance and incompetence.”

Sánchez and Casado have not spoken for the last two weeks, although PP sources said that Casado will take Sánchez’s next call, expected this weekend as part of a round of talks with all parties. The opposition has criticized the government for not keeping it informed of several major decisions made in recent weeks to address the growing social and economic crisis. Government officials have admitted to “mistakes” and offered “an apology” for not informing the opposition, regional governments and social agents about their latest plans for economic relief, which still require congressional approval.

Historical precedent

Government and PP sources admit that the tension has reached a new high and that reaching consensus at this time poses a challenge. But the executive insists on the need to find common ground and draft a sweeping political agreement for when the health crisis ends and Spain faces the task of its own economic recovery. Over 300,000 new jobless claims were filed last month, and the cost to the economy of the first four weeks of confinement has been estimated at €49 billion.

The Moncloa Pacts, named after the prime minister’s residence in Madrid, were reached at another time of crisis for Spain. In 1977, the country was emerging from decades of Franco’s dictatorship, there was political turmoil and the inflation rate was in excess of 26%. All the main parties, including the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), which had been legalized in April of that year, came together in a wide-reaching agreement on political and economic issues. The pacts were signed in October.

But such a deal seems highly unlikely at the moment. A PP spokesperson said that the party is waiting to hear what this new proposal sounds like, but that the priority right now is for Casado and Sánchez to have a conversation following the two-week hiatus. “We’re happy to just get a call and have our opinion taken into account, as well as our successful experience in managing a party like ours,” said this source.

A few days ago, Casado stated on the private TV network Telecinco that Sánchez’s way of dealing with the coronavirus crisis is “an explosive cocktail of arrogance, incompetence and lies.” He also warned that the PP would not be supporting the executive’s latest measures unless amendments are made. And he added that Sánchez’s coalition partner, the leftist Unidas Podemos, wants to turn Spain into the new Greece.

Meanwhile Vox, which is the third-largest force in Congress following the November 2019 election, wants Sánchez to resign. The far-right party would then like to create a “government of concentration and national emergency” without Sánchez in it. And both the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) have also expressed frustration at the lack of communication from the government regarding its exceptional measures to combat the coronavirus.

Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas said her party would be open to a state pact if Sánchez proposes it. “A crisis like this one deserves such a scenario,” said a party source.

“The government needs to stop testing the waters and speak out clearly,” said a PNV source. “We don’t know exactly what the executive is thinking about because there is no flowing dialogue and it is not sharing its plans.” This source said the party could support a broad cross-party agreement, “but not one that is dictated to us.”

But the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) a separatist party that helped Sánchez get confirmed in office after the November 2019 election, has openly rejected a pact with the other parties.

“If someone thinks that this can be fixed with the solutions proposed by the right, which has left the welfare state, including public healthcare, in the deplorable state we now see and suffer from, it’s because they have no memory,” said a party source. “The way out of this crisis must be social so we don’t make the same old mistake of bailing out the banks and the powerful instead of citizens and families. We consider this to be absolutely incompatible with the Great Coalition that some seem to desire.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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