CORONAVIRUS

Spain’s Popular Party only willing to support an eight-week state of alarm

PP chief Pablo Casado says the government’s planned deadline of May 9 is excessive, and demands an alternative legal tool for future restrictions

Popular Party leader Pablo Casado in Congress on Thursday.
Popular Party leader Pablo Casado in Congress on Thursday.EUROPA PRESS/E. Parra. POOL / Europa Press

Spain’s main opposition group, the Popular Party (PP), is open to supporting the state of alarm that was approved on Sunday by the Spanish Cabinet in a bid to control the coronavirus pandemic. But the PP has two conditions: this emergency state must not last longer than eight weeks, and the government must prepare a “legal Plan B” by December. In other words, the PP wants a legal reform that would allow restrictions on movement to be approved without the need to maintain the lowest of Spain’s three constitutionally established states of emergency.

“We are making a generous offer,” said PP chief Pablo Casado, who has toned down his fierce criticism of the government and now appears willing to reach an agreement, albeit with conditions. Last week, Casado made an open break with the far-right party Vox in an impassioned speech inside Congress, which was debating a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. The PP, however, governs in several municipalities and regions – including the Madrid region – thanks to the support of Vox.

But the central government, headed by a coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner Unidas Podemos, wants the state of alarm – which will initially be established for 15 days – to remain in place until May 9, 2021. The government is working on a text that it will take to the Congress of Deputies for approval. On Monday, several political leaders described a six-month state of alarm as “excessive.”

Casado said that the state of alarm decree included “aspects that may go against the Constitution itself”

The first state of alarm declared at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March had to be extended every two weeks by Spain’s lower house of parliament, and this became a political headache for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the PSOE given that the coalition lacks a working majority and needed the support of opposition parties to prolong the measure. The state of alarm came to an end in June when it was clear the government no longer had the votes it needed for another two-week extension, and full powers to control the epidemic were returned to the regional governments.

The PP voted against the extension of the state of alarm in June and has been reticent to call for its adoption again, stating instead that the government should reform existing laws to ensure that the coronavirus measures deemed necessary by regional governments enjoy legal backing.

Casado has criticized several aspects of the new decree. He has questioned why, under the state of alarm, power now falls to the regional governments and not to the central administration, arguing the executive is “sheltering itself” behind the regions. Casado has said that the decree includes “aspects that may go against the Constitution itself,” such as the provision that “there will be no jurisdictional control” over the coronavirus restrictions. Under the state of alarm, regional governments can issue measures that restrict movement without needing to request permission from a court on a case-by-case basis.

The PP leader also wants the new emergency measure to be subject to regular parliamentary control. Under the government’s decree, the Health minister would appear before the Health Commission in Congress every 15 days to report on the evolution of the pandemic – a move the PP argues would not provide enough oversight.

Divisions and support

The declaration of the state of alarm was met with a mixed response within the PP. The regional leaders of Murcia and Castilla y León supported the decision, but the party’s national spokesperson José Luis Martínez-Almeida, who is also the mayor of Madrid, held an immediate press conference to criticize the government.

Meanwhile, the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) continues to support the government’s state of alarm, but also believes that keeping it in place for six months is “excessive.” In an interview with the Cadena SER radio network on Monday, Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas confirmed that her party would support the emergency measure but said: “We will try to negotiate a much shorter period.” Ciudadanos also believes that Sánchez – not Health Minister Salvador Illa – should be the person to appear before Congress every 15 days to report on the coronavirus situation in the country.

The government wants the state of alarm to remain in place until May without any opposition from parties in Congress. This proposal was made on the basis that 10 regional governments – spanning a range of political parties – had called on the government to introduce the measure, and the PP’s recent shift to the center following its no vote at the no-confidence motion last week. But the Catalan separatist party Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) criticized the decree on Sunday, raising doubts about whether the state of alarm will be supported by Catalonia’s pro-independence groups.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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