Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wants the coronavirus pandemic to bring together politicians of all stripes, just like back in 1977.
The opposition aren’t buying it.
As tensions increase over the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis, Sánchez’s solution to the looming recession is a cross-party agreement that emulates the famous Moncloa Pacts of the late 1970s, when all political forces teamed up in an effort to address spiraling unemployment and inflation during Spain’s journey to democracy.
“I don’t have and will not have … any other enemy than the virus,” Sánchez said this week. “Nobody can win this war alone, only united we will defeat the virus and the devastation that it threatens to leave behind.”
Without a strong majority in parliament, tackling the crisis without firm and long-lasting support from at least part of the opposition might be impossible for Sánchez’s leftish coalition government.
Pablo Casado says what Sánchez really wants is to share the blame for his mistakes tackling the coronavirus.
However, the prime minister is struggling to get the two largest opposition parties — the conservative Popular Party and the far-right Vox — on board.
PP leader Pablo Casado is wary and says what Sánchez really wants is to share the blame for his mistakes tackling the coronavirus. Vox, meanwhile, has flatly refused Sánchez’s offer to talk, saying it will only engage if the entire government steps down.
“Do not sell us your puppet play for which you don’t know the script or the characters — the only thing you know is that by the time the curtain goes down we all have to be responsible for your mistakes,” Casado told Sánchez during a tense parliamentary session on Wednesday, adding that any pact should be formalized in Congress rather than behind closed doors.
The opposition stance, however, seems at odds with the public mood, which appears to be overwhelmingly in favor of a national accord. Nearly 9 in 10 Spaniards want the opposition to support the government and leave criticism for later, and 91.4 percent said all parties should try to strike deals to address the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, according to a survey carried out by the state-funded Centre for Sociological Research (CIS).
Sánchez insists that a national accord will not diminish the opposition’s ability to hold the government to account or its transparency in decision-making. “I only ask for what I can offer: unity and loyalty. Are you willing? Because I am,” he said.
The Moncloa Pacts saw all eight political forces in the late ’70s come together with a common goal.
Named after the PM’s official residence and the place where they were signed in 1977, the pacts aimed to stabilize the economy as Spain entered democracy after nearly 40 years of dictatorship under Francisco Franco. The Spanish economy at the time suffered from inflation of more than 26 percent and record levels of unemployment.
There were two pacts that contained something for everyone. A political deal paved the way for a large number of social changes: It brought an end to censorship and other restrictions to press freedom, the opposition gained access to more information about the government’s official secrets, the right of assembly and association was introduced, and the sale of contraceptives was decriminalized, among other measures.
An associated economic deal made it easier for companies to make some of their staff redundant, introduced the right for workers to unionize, salary increases were capped, financial controls were put in place to avoid the flight of capital and banks going bankrupt, and limits were introduced on how much the peseta, Spain’s currency at the time, could be devalued.
According to José Félix Sanz, a professor of applied economics at Complutense University of Madrid, Sánchez’s proposed deal is not equivalent to the Moncloa Pacts because the context is radically different and the necessary consensus among political forces has not yet emerged.
“The government is referring to the Moncloa Pacts because of political marketing, because those pacts were approved unanimously by all the political forces with representation in Congress at the time,” he said. “Those agreements were not just about what to do: The parties first agreed on the diagnosis of the problem and only then agreed on how to tackle them. At present, leaving aside the stance of the opposition, there’s no unanimity about what the problem is within the coalition government.”
Recent announcements of economic measures, such as a subsidy for single-parent families, make a national pact on the scale of the Moncloa Pacts even less likely, Sanz said.
“If you’re really committed to reaching a pact of that magnitude, you cannot put forward measures that are going to compromise the national budget and the country’s public deficit for years, before the talks have even started. No economic measure was announced in 1977 that had not been agreed first as part of the talks for the Moncloa Pacts,” he said.
The PP’s dilemma
Casado, whose party has 88 of the 350 seats in Congress, argues that a phone call or an invitation for a bilateral meeting with Sánchez is not enough to consider his offer of a new Moncloa Pact. Instead, he is calling on the government to focus on an urgent plan to address the health emergency, and leave the economic fallout for later.
The Foundation for Social Studies and Analysis (Faes), a right-wing think tank led by former Prime Minister José María Aznar and reportedly very close to Casado, is lobbying against a national pact as long as the far-left Podemos continues to be part of the coalition government. In a strongly worded statement, Faes argued that Podemos “seeks to achieve more power” and “has become a threat for the democratic system.”
Inés Arrimadas supports the idea of a national pact, as long as Podemos’ “outdated ideas” are not included.
Sánchez was due to start calling opposition leaders to gauge their support on Thursday, beginning with those with the largest number of MPs. But a videoconference with Casado was postponed to early next week — with the PP accusing the prime minister’s office of not picking up the phone when they called to discuss the meeting.
The reaction of the PP and Vox has meant Sánchez will first speak with his socialist coalition partner Podemos, the centre-right Ciudadanos and nationalist parties from Catalonia and the Basque Country. Further talks will take place Friday and early next week.
Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas supports the idea of a national pact, as long as Podemos’ “outdated ideas” are not included.
In a press conference on Tuesday, she said the pact should be split into three parts: an urgent plan to ensure the supply of protective gear and drugs to hospitals and the community; a plan to reactivate the economy with strategies for the industries most badly hit; and a social protection plan to help the most vulnerable.
Meanwhile, Catalan regional President Quim Torra refused to express a view on Sánchez’s offer until the details are known. In a press conference Thursday, Torra said he knew “nothing” about the pacts that Sánchez wants to put forward.
“They have not sent me anything, no piece of paper, only a headline in the press. That is no way of going about things.”