CORONAVIRUS

Regional premiers voice their opposition to extending Spain’s state of alarm

During a weekly video conference with the prime minister, politicians object to the Spanish government’s coronavirus deescalation plan

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Saturday.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Saturday. / Europa Press

Several of Spain’s regional premiers told Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Sunday that they oppose another extension of the state of alarm that was implemented on March 14, a move that gave the central government extra powers to be used to deal with the coronavirus crisis. The state of alarm must be approved by Congress every two weeks, and the current period is set to end on May 9.

Sánchez, who heads a minority coalition government with junior partner Unidas Podemos, will need the support of other groups, such as the main opposition Popular Party (PP), if he is to secure the required votes in Spain’s lower house of parliament on Wednesday for a further two weeks of the state of alarm. The PP and far-right Vox, among other groups, have made it clear in recent weeks that they may not support another extension.

PP premiers are unhappy with the government’s plan to deescalate confinement measures according to province

On Sunday, the prime minister held the eighth video conference call with the leaders of Spain’s 17 regions since the coronavirus crisis took hold in Spain. Today’s meeting was characterized by criticism of the government’s unilateral actions, which, they argued, have been taken without prior consultation with the regions.

Regional premiers from the PP continue to be unhappy with the central government’s plan to deescalate confinement measures according to province, rather than geographical definitions based on the areas covered by each healthcare system.

The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), meanwhile, one of the government’s key allies in Congress, is also unhappy about Sánchez’s plan to “co-govern” with the regions during the relaxation of the confinement measures, something that is aimed at boosting consensus and coordination.

The prime minister began the meeting by announcing that the number of daily coronavirus-related deaths had fallen to its lowest level today, 164, since the week that the state of alarm was implemented. He also detailed his plan for a €16 billion fund to assist the regions as they deal with the fallout from the coronavirus crisis.

Sánchez announced his commitment to the government “assuming the cost of the pandemic”

He also informed the regional leaders that the Cabinet would approve a third line of government-backed loans valued at €24.5 billion – €10 billion for SMEs and the self-employed, €10 billion for large companies, €4 billion for the fixed-income alternative market and €500 million for CERSA, a state institution that offers financing for small businesses and the self-employed.

Sánchez announced his commitment to the government “assuming the cost of the pandemic.”

Basque Country premier Iñigo Urkullu, of the PNV, objected to the decision-making processes of the government, and called for an end to the state of alarm – which recentralized many regional powers to Madrid – on the basis that there are other instruments at the government’s disposal to deal with the current situation. Sánchez responded by saying that the state of alarm is part of the Constitution, and that he would be held accountable in Congress every two weeks during the debate preceding the vote on an extension. “It’s the only instrument that allows us to act on an immediate basis,” he reiterated, while assuring Urkullu that the government would negotiate the deescalation with each region.

Catalan premier Quim Torra, meanwhile, stated that the pro-independence Together for Catalonia party would once again vote against an extension to the state of alarm. “I continue to believe that co-governance is not the best way,” said Torra, who is a hardline Catalan separatist. He also questioned the prime minister’s approach of announcing measures on a Saturday, and then discussing them on Sundays with the regional premiers. “Saturdays for talk and Sundays for announcements,” he insisted.

The regional premier of Madrid told the prime minister that the state of alarm was “limiting the fundamental rights” of citizens

Sánchez responded saying that the government’s actions were “very different” than those of other countries, such as Italy, which has implemented a six-month state of emergency, and France, which will vote on a similar measure that will last until June 24. “Instead, in Spain the government has decided to go to parliament every two weeks to request an extension to the state of alarm,” he said.

The regional premier of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, told the prime minister that the state of alarm was “limiting the fundamental rights” of citizens, when the crisis that the country was going through was, “in the end, a health issue.” The PP politician warned that the impact on the economy of the crisis could lead to a million people without work by the end of the year in the region, something that could lead to “disturbances,” sources who were at the meeting reported her as saying. Sources from the regional government told EL PAÍS that the number of unemployed cited by Ayuso “had not been confirmed.”

Ayuso called for fewer gatherings and that self-protection for citizens should be increased. Her comments came just a day after she apologized – as did the mayor and deputy mayor of Madrid – for organizing a closing ceremony at the coronavirus field hospital that was set up at the city’s Ifema convention center. There was widespread controversy over the event given the large number of people who attended, and the scant regard for social-distancing measures.

Ayuso concluded by calling for fresh bilateral talks with the central government over the next steps to be taken to deal with the crisis.

The regional premier of Aragón, Javier Lambán of the PSOE, said that a deescalation by province “is not suitable” in regions such as his, where 76% of municipalities occupy 73% of the land, and represent just 12% of the regional population. More than half of the population, meanwhile, resides in Zaragoza. “There are areas that could already reopen,” he argued, citing the 730 areas that have fewer inhabitants combined than Zaragoza.

Lambán added that at previous meetings he suggested that municipalities with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants should get priority, and insisted that the best unit for deescalation measures should be the basic healthcare areas.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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