Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez held an unusual public event on Monday: instead of organizing a political rally attended by grassroots supporters, he marked the end of parliament’s summer recess with a speech given in the presence of the country’s top business leaders. His message was one of unity amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, and it was aimed squarely at the main opposition Popular Party (PP).
The mere presence of the business leaders was, in itself, a political statement. Major figures such as Ana Patricia Botín from the Santander banking group, José María Álvarez Pallete from telecommunications giant Telefónica, Carlos Torres from lender BBVA, Florentino Pérez from construction group ACS, and Pablo Isla from fashion giant Inditex – which owns the popular brand Zara – were all in attendance to hear Sánchez call for unity and a “new political climate.”
There is no such thing as a right-wing virus or a left-wing virusSpanish PM Pedro Sánchez
The Socialist Party (PSOE) politician leads a minority coalition government backed by junior partner Unidas Podemos, and as such needs the support of other groups to pass legislation in the Congress of Deputies. His priority at the current time is to find approval for a new budget: political fragmentation and a lack of accord in recent years have meant that Spain has been stuck with the budget approved in 2018 by the former PP administration of then-Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
There are, however, internal tensions in the governing coalition over the new budget, with Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias unhappy about the possibility that Sánchez could seek the support of center-right Ciudadanos for the financial plans. The PP, for its part, has ruled out supporting any of the government’s plans in Congress.
But on Monday, the prime minister told business leaders that the government “can guarantee its stability in the 40 months that are left of the political term;” or in other words, that the cohesion of the coalition is not under threat.
“The worst evil of Spain has always been not believing in itselfSpanish PM Pedro Sánchez
“The government is choosing unity, not division, nor conflict, nor confrontation,” the prime minister said during his speech. “Spain must come to an understanding with Spain, just like Europe came to an understanding with Europe in July,” he said, in reference to the agreement hammered out by European Union countries over the bloc’s financial response to the coronavirus crisis. “This is the biggest challenge in a century,” he continued. “We can’t overcome it with half of Spain turning its back on the other half, or, what’s even worse, pitted against the other half. There is no such thing as a right-wing virus or a left-wing virus.”
The prime minister called for a “new political climate” to deal with the coronavirus and the economic crisis, and insisted that “without dialogue there is no solution.”
In another indirect message to the PP, Sánchez referred to the attendees from the business world, saying that “there are more than a hundred people here with different political preferences but that share the same desire: to see our country stand tall, marching toward the future. I’m sure that they are ready to pool their efforts.”
Under the slogan “España puede,” or Spain can, Sánchez offered a patriotic speech, stepping into the center of the political scene at a delicate time given the health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“On many occasions, Spain is discussed in better terms outside of Spain than inside of Spain,” he continued. “The worst evil of Spain has always been not believing in itself. We must stamp this out. Spain can if Spain wants to. We have demonstrated this. Spain lived through a war, a long dictatorship after a coup against the Republic. This history causes us to not value what we have done in the last 40 years. We have a country that we should feel tremendously proud of,” he added.
English version by Simon Hunter.