The Spanish government has secured the support that it will need in the Congress of Deputies to pass a sixth extension to the ongoing state of alarm, which was first implemented by the Cabinet on March 14 in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
The executive has reached a deal with the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which will vote in favor of the extension, according to sources from the group. Meanwhile, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) will abstain at the vote in Spain’s lower house of parliament on Wednesday, after voting against the last two extensions.
The state of alarm is the lowest of three emergency states under Spanish law, and was brought into force by the Spanish government to be able to confine citizens to their homes due to the spread of the epidemic, among other powers. Since then, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has had to request approval in Congress on a two-weekly basis to extend the exceptional measures.
ERC voted against the extension of the state of alarm on the last two occasions
Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), heads a coalition government with junior partner Unidas Podemos, but lacks a working majority in the Congress of Deputies. As such, he has had to secure support from other parties in order to pass legislation – including extensions to the state of alarm. Initially he had the support of other groups in Congress, but as the coronavirus crisis has continued – claiming more than 27,000 lives in Spain, according to official figures – some parties, including the main opposition Popular Party (PP), have withdrawn their votes in favor or abstentions.
In exchange for their support at Wednesday’s vote – which is due to be the last extension to the state of alarm, which will expire on June 21 – the Basque and Catalan nationalist parties have secured commitment from the government that all of Spain’s regions will recover the majority of the powers that were recentralized under the state of alarm when they enter Phase 3, the last stage of the government’s coronavirus deescalation plan.
The deal with ERC – negotiated between Sánchez and Catalan deputy premier Pere Aragonés and their respective teams – responds to the party’s requests for the regions to be involved in the European Union’s economic reactivation fund, but it does not include the reactivation of plans for talks between Madrid and the Catalan government over the future of the region, which has for many years now been immersed in a drive for independence from Spain.
ERC voted against the extension of the state of alarm on the last two occasions on the basis that the Sánchez government had ignored its proposals during negotiations, which included restoring full powers over healthcare to the regional governments, among other demands. The deal reached with the pro-independence party in exchange for support at the vote includes the return of all powers to the region in Phase 3 of the deescalation plan, apart from those covering freedom of movement.
The government has also agreed to create an alternative mechanism to the state of alarm that would “guarantee co-governance” between the central and regional governments in a similar situation to the one created by the coronavirus pandemic. Catalonia and other Spanish regions have continually complained that the state of alarm had removed their powers of decision-making in their territories. According to the deal, these legal reforms will be presented in a congressional commission with the commitment of approving them in the space of three months.
English version by Simon Hunter.