CORONAVIRUS

Government faces fresh criticism in Congress, may lack support for new state of alarm

The Popular Party and Vox warned Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez that they would be taking legal action over his handling of the coronavirus crisis

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (l) and Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias in Congress today.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (l) and Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias in Congress today.EMILIO NARANJO / AFP

During a question-and-answer session today in the Congress of Deputies, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez found scant support from other parties, although the level of aggression displayed by opposition groups was not as high as during previous sessions that dealt with the coronavirus crisis.

The debate on Wednesday in the lower house of parliament served to increase doubts as to whether deputies will support the government’s request for another extension to the state of alarm, which was first implemented on March 14 in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus and must be renewed every two weeks in Congress.

The leader of the main opposition Popular Party repeatedly accused Sánchez of lying during the coronavirus crisis

Last Wednesday, the executive managed to secure approval for a third extension of the state of alarm – which gives the government extra powers to deal with the epidemic – with votes against from far-right Vox, Together for Catalonia and Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), and the abstention of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC).

Sánchez heads up a coalition government, made up of his Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner, left-wing Unidas Podemos. The government lacks a working majority in Congress and as such must rely on the support of other parties in order to pass legislation.

The leader of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, today repeatedly accused Sánchez of lying during the coronavirus crisis, and warned that his group may abstain at the upcoming vote. Center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), meanwhile, also criticized the government in Congress today, and left its support up in the air. Gabriel Rufián, from ERC, explained that his party was closer to voting no. The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) announced last week that if the government did not agree the next steps it would be taking with the regions, it would withdraw its support.

The tone of the criticism of the government has varied, from the heightened criticism of Vox and the PP to the more measured tone of other parties. But the common denominator of all the censure has related to the lack of dialogue on the part of the government before making major announcements, such as the deescalation plan Sánchez unveiled on Tuesday.

This crisis will not serve as an excuse to abandon the environmental transition, nor to scale back the welfare system
Pedro Sánchez

“Don’t count on us if things carry on like this,” Casado told Sánchez today in Congress. The prime minister admitted that the economic situation in Spain is “very serious” after more than six weeks of lockdown, but did not respond to the question as to whether the country will need a bailout.

“This crisis will not serve as an excuse to abandon the environmental transition, nor to scale back the welfare system or to continue to make employment more precarious,” said Sánchez in response to the accusations by the opposition that he had lied about his management of the crisis.

During the session in Congress today, deputies voiced their criticism of the plan for a transition to a “new normality” presented on Tuesday. The issues expressed were not so much about the content, which few mentioned, but rather for the lack of detail on certain aspects. The PP and Ciudadanos also bemoaned the fact that the government had not consulted with the opposition before putting their plans into place.

All of the government ministers who spoke in Congress today – in particular Unidas Podemos leader and Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias – refused to be drawn on the accusations. Instead, they reached out to the other political groups with offers to work together in the parliamentary commission that has been agreed on, and is aimed at social and economic reconstruction.

High-ranking deputies from PP and Vox also warned the government that they would be filing lawsuits against the government for “criminal” offenses related to their management of the coronavirus crisis, which has claimed 24,275 lives in Spain, according to the most recent data from the Health Ministry.

After the conclusion of today’s question-and-answer session concludes, two royal decrees were due to be voted on: one includes urgent measures to protect the victims of gender violence, while the second extends the deadline for filing value added tax returns by small- and medium-sized firms and the self-employed to May 20, as well as the payment of company and income taxes in installments.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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