Scholar Explains How New Spanish Govt May Kickstart Talks with Catalonia

© REUTERS / Sergio Perez / Spain's new Prime Minister and Socialist party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez stands in the chamber after a motion of no confidence vote at parliament in Madrid, Spain, June 1, 2018
Spain's new Prime Minister and Socialist party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez stands in the chamber after a motion of no confidence vote at parliament in Madrid, Spain, June 1, 2018 - Sputnik International
Pedro Sanchez was sworn in as Spain’s new prime minister on Saturday after a historic vote of no confidence against his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy. The 46-year old former economics professor’s Spanish Socialist Workers Party relied on support from the Podemos Party, as well as Basque and Catalans.

Sputnik discussed the latest political developments in Spain with Dr. Pablo Calderón Martínez, lecturer in Spanish Studies at the School of Languages and Social Sciences, Aston University, UK.

Sputnik: Why has Rajoy been removed just now, despite years of corruption scandal?

Dr. Pablo Calderón Martínez: I think one of many things that was almost admirable of Mariano Rajoy was his capacity to survive, basically, and to stick around despite these corruption scandals, but I think once the judgment from the court came out, and it basically said that the Popular Party, the PP, had benefited directly from these corruption scandals, from kick-backs from private companies. His position was pretty much un-survivable, even then he refused to resign, so it was just too much, it was just one of those things that was un-survivable.

Sputnik: Was it a surprise? I had a guest recently also talking about these developments and he said that 10 days ago he wouldn’t have seen this coming?

Dr. Pablo Calderón Martínez: I think it was a surprise in the sense that I didn’t expect the vote of no confidence to go through, and I think that was really a surprise.

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I didn’t imagine Sanchez having the support, I wasn’t expecting this sort of ballsy move, which as we know, it was the first time in Spain since the transition to democracy in 1978 that this has happened; so in that sense it is surprising and I was surprised with Pedro Sanchez and a little bit impressed, but I suppose it was going to be very, very hard for Rajoy to survive this.

I could’ve envisaged may be a change within the Popular Party or maybe a call for early elections or something along those lines, but I did think that once the judgment came back and once the corruption scandal was confirmed by the Spanish authorities, as it were, it was very, very hard to come back from that and his days were numbered.

Sputnik: What’s going to become of the Popular Party now and how do you see the corruption scandal unfolding?

Dr. Pablo Calderón Martínez: That’s a very interesting question. I suppose there has been a relative change over the past few years in the Spanish political landscape.

Obviously with the emergence of new political parties Ciudadanos, Podemos, to the left and to the right, but let us not forget that the Partido Popular and the Socialist Party have been the mainstays of Spanish democracy since the 1980s, it’s not like the Socialist Party has been historically exempt of its own corruption scandal as well, I can imagine the next corruption scandal is just around the corner – this is Spanish politics after all.

So I think Partido Popular will regroup and will come back probably stronger, if not these coming elections, arguably or possibly within the next few months, certainly next time around 

Sputnik: Mr. Sanchez has become the first prime minister appointed without the public vote, what kind of support does he enjoy among the population?

Dr. Pablo Calderón Martínez: It’s a very difficult question to answer, but I think this is not the first time, because of the way the Spanish electoral system works. This is not the first time that we have a prime minister or a president, that does not necessarily have the most widespread support around the electorate, but somehow manages to get to power because of the way parliamentary politics and the Spanish political system work.

Having said that, he’s definitely not the most popular politician, he’s popular among certain sectors of the Socialist Party, the grassroots sectors of the Socialist Party; he is sort of more accepted by the more left-wing sides of the political spectrum as well, but there’s no denying that he’s going to have a very tough time governing, more than, and I’m sorry to say this, more than the electorate as such, the real issue here is how he’s going to make the arithmetic of his coalition work and how he’s going to make it work in terms of support from the nationalists in the Basque country in particular.

Obviously, the nationalists in Catalonia and also the Podemos to the left and how he’s going to keep that working.

Sputnik: I believe one of the experts, as he put it a few days ago, said that there will be ”a lot spinning plates in the air” for him and that he would have to do quite a balancing act to hold the alliance together, so yes, a lot of experts are saying that he’s going to be heading an exceptionally weak government.

Dr. Pablo Calderón Martínez: I think so, there’s no two ways around it. Also, I think, as I understand it, there was some pact that was reached, particularly to gain support from the Basque Nationalist Party, the BNP, which pretty much means there are not going to be any changes to the budget, the same budget that was passed by the Popular Party, which basically means no changes in terms of economic policy, no changes in expenditure.

I think if he manages to do something, it would have to be the situation Catalonia, of course, and then maybe issues around social policy, which is historically where the Socialist Party has tried to make changes, but other than that I don’t see any massive of transformation.

Sputnik: Yes, so they can pretty much leave the economy alone for the moment, because obviously the biggest issue is the Catalan issue; how urgent is a resolution of the Catalan issue? Because this is not going to be easy with some of the major figures of the independence movement in detention, right?

Dr. Pablo Calderón Martínez: It’s been urgent for the last 20 years perhaps, it’s a very urgent matter; it’s just become more urgent. My fear, however, is that there is simply no resolution and that’s because of the last few months, even the last few years, positions have become more extreme and the Socialist Party has come to be sort of a federalist party, so they would be comfortable with a federal Spain, obviously, the Partido Popular would not be happy with that and other center-right forces will not be happy with that.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there’s a lot of very strong political forces in Catalonia that are only going to be happy with independence; so it’s a very difficult situation.

My hope is that, and this seems to be the indication, a change in leadership in Madrid and a Socialist Party leadership, which can be seen as more favorable towards further devolution in Spain, will perhaps kick-start negotiations with Catalonia, and my hope would be that we could have a proper referendum, with proper campaigning that is accepted by both parties, with proper oversight and then we can finally put this question to rest.

The views and opinions expressed by Dr. Pablo Calderón Martínez are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.



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