Spain’s prime minister is speeding up both the deescalation of coronavirus confinement measures, and the country’s political tensions. Everything is moving faster than expected and Pedro Sánchez has made moves this weekend that have helped him recover his majority in Congress and thus strengthen his position ahead of having to tackle the impending economic crisis caused by the epidemic.
The Socialist Party (PSOE) chief made all of this clear during a televised address on Sunday, which was broadcast after his weekly videoconference call with the country’s regional premiers. He announced that after June 21, when the final extension to the state of alarm is over, Spaniards will begin to recover their freedom of movement across the country, provided that there are no unexpected obstacles. And politically, he has taken a key decision: the regional governments will recover all of their powers to control the deescalation – apart from those regarding mobility – from next weekend.
The prime minister insisted that the state of alarm had been fundamental to halting the spread of the virus. “Today I have announced that we are going to need one last and definitive extension to the state of alarm,” he said. “But it will be different, it will be much lighter.”
The emergency measure – the lowest of three included in the Spanish Constitution – was implemented by the Cabinet on March 14, and since then has been extended every two weeks by the Congress of Deputies. However, Sánchez – who leads a coalition government with junior partner Unidas Podemos – does not have a working majority in the lower house of parliament, and has required the support of lawmakers from other parties to maintain the exceptional powers. These votes have waned as the crisis has progressed, and one of the regular complaints voiced by the regions (and the political opposition) has been their lack of involvement in the decision-making process and the recentralization of their competencies to Madrid.
“From June 8,” the prime minister continued on Sunday, “with more than half the country in Phase 3, it will be the regional premiers who decide how to manage the speed [of the coronavirus deescalation], including phase changes and their duration. We are moving from co-governance to full governance.” When the regions are in Phase 3, the last of the four deescalation stages, they will also recover powers over mobility.
Sánchez’s message on Sunday was one of optimism, from a medical point of view as well as on the economic and political side. “The evolution is going much better than we had forecast,” he said with regard to the virus, explaining that this is why the government will not seek extensions to the state of alarm beyond June 21.
The prime minister was visibly satisfied with the agreements reached this weekend with the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which have committed to ensuring the extension of the state of alarm passes Wednesday’s vote.
He is now shifting his attention to the reconstruction of the Spanish economy, which has been devastated by the coronavirus and the accompanying confinement measures, and will count on the support of European Union funds that Spain, France and Italy have been calling for since the outset.
“We have always argued that Europe needs a new Marshall Plan,” he said. “The first one came from the United States, but now it is Europe that will save Europe. We are preparing an unprecedented investment plan with that €140 billion,” he explained, in reference to the funds that will come to Spain from the EU for reconstruction. “Tourism and the automotive sector will have particular support in this program.”
The prime minister also pointed to the fact that coronavirus “infections have plummeted” in Spain, and that “it is logical to feel great relief for this achievement.” But, he warned, “we cannot relax, the virus is still lurking. We must call upon individual responsibility, it’s a priority.
“We cannot forget the thousands of lives that Covid-19 has taken away,” he said. “But the truth is that we have nearly achieved what we proposed,” he added, in reference to the positive progress of the epidemic in Spain.
The prime minister also referred to the reactivation of the tourism sector. At one point the government was practically writing off the summer season, but given the positive progress of the epidemic in Spain, the administration has been encouraging Spaniards to book vacations from June and has stated that international visitors will be able to return from July 1 onward, when the current two-week quarantine period for overseas arrivals is due to be scrapped.
“Reactivation [of the tourism sector] should be immediate,” he said. “In Spain you will find physical distance but emotional closeness.”
The prime minister also expressed his confidence that an effective vaccine will be found against Covid-19, and pointed to a number of research projects that are currently in progress in Spain. “Never again can we allow the health system to be weakened,” he added. “And never should we allow for science to be weakened.”
Questioned about the recent outbreaks that have been detected in Spain, the prime minister attributed them to the irresponsibility of citizens who have ignored the deescalation measures. But he pointed to the ability of Spain’s regions to deal with such outbreaks, isolating those involved and carrying out tests. The prime minister also called on young people to act responsibly to avoid new infections.
“If there is no deviation in the evolution of the epidemic, on July 1 the entire territory will see mobility restored,” he concluded.
English version by Simon Hunter.