Irene Matías Campano
Public affairs consultant and director of the Association of Spanish Public Affairs Professionals (APRI)
After the European elections held in the last weekend of May, many people wonder if the social democracy has a future in Europe. The answer will depend largely on Spain: the PSOE has been the only socialist party to resist the political fragmentation caused by populism and the new political parties, both with eurosceptic inclinations. Sánchez will try to transform this European political crisis into an opportunity for him, his organization, Spain and Europe. This will help him to attract public and private institutions that believe in European integration as part of the solutions against antiglobalization and unsustainability movements, and in favor of the economic and social development of the planet, to move forward in the European Project of liberal democracy opposed to the populisms or protectionist instincts of Trump.
These ideas are shared on the European political scene, in addition to other social democratic parties, by the consequent potential allies of the PSOE: a large part of the conservatives led by Merkel’s Christian democracy, by the ALDE Liberals now led by Macron and even by the Greens, whose strength has grown in these elections together with the populist parties, unlike the EPP and S & D.
Sánchez expects, according to his inner circles, that this will allow to solve the institutional deficit position of Spain in the EU. He talked this way to French prime minister Macron and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, during two bilateral meetings held in Brussels prior to the informal dinner of the Heads of State and Government of the European Union. Before the end of autumn, the so-called European co-legislators, this European Council (acting as an informal Senate) and the new European Parliament (the only current chamber) have to agree to elect, in this order, the president of the European Commission, the Parliament, the Council, the Court of Justice and the European Central Bank.
Pedro Sánchez, reviving leader as a phoenix bird, survivor of an internal crisis of the Spanish Socialist Party, who resigned and regained internal power in primary elections and later reaching the Government in a motion of censure to Rajoy, a strategy that has made him win four Spanish elections in a month (the national elections on April 28nd, and the European, regional and local on May 26th ), now plays to be considered also “the phoenix bird of Europe.” And for all this he initially had the support of Josep Borrell, who was already president of the European Parliament and knows very well all the stakeholder in Brussels and in each of the countries, since he was foreign affairs minister since Sánchez recovered the power in June 2018.
The importance of Europe is crucial for Spain, one of the most pro-European countries that has contributed to one of the highest participations of the European elections in the last 40 years. As an example: out of the 10 Royal Decrees Laws approved in Spain in 2019, 70% have come from an European Directive; in 2018, 54 directives were transposed into Spanish laws (21 of them were already behind the deadline); Spain must transpose at least 18 European directives which deadline is between January 1 and December 31, 2019, and a long etcetera. This is a clear example that influence must be exercised beyond Spanish borders.
This growing Europeanization, which affects directly citizens and businesses, is well known by Spaniards and other Europeans who have contributed to the aforementioned increase in electoral participation. Another example: Spain accounted for 43% of mortgage cases that reach the European Union Court of Justice; there are 738 Spanish lobbies registered in the EU. This demonstrates the value that both citizens and companies place in Europe. However, Spain has only had presidents of Parliament: it never had a president of the European Commission, the European Central bank, the Council or the Court of Justice.
Therefore, Sánchez and Borrell want to boost to European policies, so that the results are recognized in Spain and the PSOE can increase its representation in the Congress, far from the simple or absolute majority that has achieved in the Spanish Senate. That will turn into fostering a more pro-European strategy, making possible expansions that would compensate the Brexit (there are seven countries waiting for a new Commission to decide) and especially to increase the reinforced cooperation so that countries that want to advance faster in the fiscal union (with a reinforced budget, among other functions for social, defense and foreign) and a banking union capable of facing future crises in better conditions than the one initiated between 2008-2010, still not completely overcome by several countries. In the shorter term, that will mean an attempt to extend across Europe the tax projects to large digital companies and to the financial transactions that Sánchez’s first government raised before calling elections due to his minority situation in the government.
Spanish companies and citizens face multiple challenges arising from globalization and geopolitics, they must wake up from the national lethargy and understand that dialogue arises in Europe. The current acting president, Pedro Sánchez is aware of this. Before entering a career in regional and national politics, Sánchez worked as a parliamentary assistant in the European Parliament, and as chief of staff to the United Nations high representative in Bosnia during the Kosovo War; he was also a Professor of Economics, publishing a version of his doctoral thesis “The new economic European diplomacy”. Hence the role that institutional, corporate and non-governmental diplomacy will play in the next legislature if Sánchez is elected as president of Spain.
However, before judging that European role and being able to make it profitable in Spanish stability for the next 4 years and continuity of socialist government at least in the next 4 years, Pedro Sánchez will have to be invested as Spanish president. Its acting Spokesman believes that the investiture can be consummated in a month, at the beginning of July. The PSOE trusts to be able to govern alone, with pacts to several bands, from the yellow party of Ciudadanos (aligned with Macron) to Unidas Podemos, with whom agreements have been reached in the last legislature, and the election of members in the Congress Bureau at the end of May. On the other hand, the presidencies of the PSOE in the two Chambers, Meritxell Batet for the Congress and Manuel Cruz for the Senate, redouble the message that there are non-independent Catalans able to lead the Spanish institutions, which implies a bet on dialogue and coexistence.
The weakness of Podemos, a former government partner, also marks a before and after. After the bad results of Unidas Podemos and the meeting of Pedro Sánchez with Macron, he now prefers alliances with Ciudadanos than those of Podemos, because it allows him to gain the confidence of the business and EU network. For businessmen, the best Government would be with Ciudadanos, since at least they will be able, from moderation, to control unpopular measures for businessmen that are still in progress as the regulation that control the working hours schedule of workers in companies, that, despite being backed by the Court of Justice of The European Union (CJEU) two days after its implementation, certain professional groups, including the General Council of Spanish Law (CGAE) and the Illustrious Bar Association of Madrid (ICAM), have already asked for an exemption to the Ministry of Labor.
Therefore, Sánchez opts to achieve the investiture to govern the next 4 years alone and with pacts to the left and right, which would give stability for 4 years, in order to aspire to another 4. While Podemos is weakened at the regional level, Ciudadanos lives under the threat of agreements with Vox and the latest movements of Valls in Barcelona, who has shown his willingness to pact with Colau and the PSOE.
The preference of government agreements with Ciudadanos was clear on May 30, when the Minister of Economy Nadia Calviño announced that the next Government of Sanchez would not reverse the labor reform, contrary to what was initially promised by Sanchez to win the primaries in the PSOE and the necessary Decree was prepared before calling the last elections in March, although “it will elaborate a new Statute for workers of the XXI Century”. But the unions and Podemos are urging him to dismantle these elements of the labor reform of 2012 before negotiating the new Statute of Workers proposed by the PSOE: ultractivity, prevalence of the agreements in the sector, and a new regulation of subcontractors.
After these internal tasks, the role of Borrell in the EU will be decisive in order for the stability sought by Sánchez in Spain to be extended beyond 4 years, through the approval of measures that allow implementing the stability program and that could not be implemented in the previous legislature (the tax on digital services, the new tax on financial transactions, the rise of diesel, increases in income tax to salaries exceeding 130,000 euros and corporate tax for large companies), as well as to act against the independence movement. With this agenda, and given the diversity of crossed interests, institutional relations and corporate and non-governmental diplomacy will be crucial in the next 4 years not only in Spain, but also in Europe.
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