CORONAVIRUS

Pedro Sánchez tells regional chiefs he will request a sixth and final extension to the state of alarm

During weekly videoconference call with the PM, Catalan premier Quim Torra insisted that all powers suspended under the emergency measure should be returned to the regions immediately

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez during Sunday's videoconference call with Spain's regional premiers.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez during Sunday's videoconference call with Spain's regional premiers.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez confirmed on Sunday to the country’s regional premiers that he will request a sixth and final two-week extension to the state of alarm. The Congress of Deputies will vote on the measure on Wednesday, and if it receives the support of lawmakers, the emergency conditions will be in place until June 21.

Sánchez, who leads a coalition government with junior partner Unidas Podemos, also conveyed to the regions’ chiefs that they would recover the majority of the powers that have been recentralized to Madrid during the coronavirus crisis, once their areas are in the final stage of the government’s deescalation plan, Phase 3.

The state of alarm is the lowest of three emergency states under Spanish law, and was brought into force by the government to be able to confine citizens to their homes due to the spread of the epidemic, among other powers. Since then, the prime minister has had to request approval in Congress on a two-weekly basis to extend the exceptional measures.

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The coalition government lacks a working majority in the Congress of Deputies, and as such has needed support from other parties to extend the state of alarm. On Saturday, it emerged that 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. This should ensure the vote prospers.

The announcement by Sánchez on Sunday, however, did not convince the Catalan premier, Quim Torra, from Together for Catalonia, which governs the northeastern Spanish region in partnership with ERC. The hardline separatist argued this morning that the regions should recover all of their powers immediately. Together for Catalonia has opposed the state of alarm for weeks now.

“It’s logical for the powers to be returned, I’m calling for us to have them now,” he said, according to sources who were present at the videoconference call, the 12th to take place since the coronavirus crisis hit Spain. Torra also called for the costs of the crisis in Catalonia to be covered, estimating them at around €5 billion.

Part of the deal that Sánchez has reached with ERC and PNV is that the regions will take part in decision-making with regard to the distribution of European Union funds that will be disbursed to assist with the reconstruction of the members states’ economies in the wake of the crisis. Sánchez told regional chiefs today that Spain would receive €77 billion in transfers from the EU and €63 billion in credits. The sectors that will benefit the most are tourism, trade, renewables, automotive, transport, construction and digital.

“Phase 3 will be one of total governance by the regions, which will have powers to manage their deescalation,” Sánchez told the regional premiers today. The prime minister added that the experts advising the government had recommended that mobility be limited for two more weeks, until June 21.

Spain is implementing an asymmetrical deescalation plan, with regions, provinces or healthcare areas changing phase according to a number of factors, including primary healthcare capacity. Four of Spain’s islands will move to the final phase on Monday, while areas such as Madrid and Barcelona city remain in Phase 1, given that they were among the hardest hit by the coronavirus epidemic.

Guaranteed minimum income

According to several sources present at the meeting today, two of the conservative Popular Party (PP)’s regional chiefs, Alberto Núñez Feijóo (Galicia) and Juan Manuel Moreno (Andalusia), called on Sánchez to allow the regions to manage the newly launched guaranteed minimum income scheme, which the coalition government says will assist 850,000 families who are at risk of poverty in Spain.

The government has already agreed to transfer these powers to the Basque Country, Catalonia and Navarre. “Guaranteed minimum income must be managed by the regions so that there is an equitable approach,” argued Feijóo. “It would not make any sense for there to be different administrations,” he continued, given that other welfare schemes are already administered by the regions.

The Cantabrian premier, Miguel Ángel Revilla, from the Regionalist Party of Cantabria (PRC), announced on Sunday that his group would also vote in favor of the state of alarm extension on Wednesday, and that he also backed a proposal by Basque Country premier Íñigo Urkullu for face masks to be exempt from sales tax (VAT).

English version by Simon Hunter.

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