On Sunday, November 10, general elections took place in Spain. 48 hours later, the leaders of the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party – social democrats) and Unidas Podemos (UP), Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias, announced a left-wing coalition government in Spain. Read Marga Ferré’s comment and the preliminary agreement between PSOE and UP.
The political jam that Spain has been in since 2015 – 4 general elections in 4 years – was unlocked in hours when the PSOE accepted the central demand of Unidas Podemos (Podemos + Izquierda Unida + Cataluña EnComú) to be part of the government that would reflect the number of votes each formation received. A demand that was not accepted after the April elections, which necessitated new elections whose paradoxical result has led to the first coalition government of Spanish democracy and the first with radical left ministers since the Second Republic in 1936.
The announcement of a joint PSOE–Unidas Podemos government was celebrated with joy and relief by the millions of Spaniards who witnessed the rise of Vox’s extreme right (15% of the vote), which threatened to bring Spain back to dark times. The announcement of this progressive coalition government has created hope and, even knowing how enormously difficult it will be to dismantle all the neoliberal policies and promote the defence of the popular classes, I have no doubt that it will be well worth the effort.
The new government will consist of at least four Unidas Podemos ministers, and it is more than likely that Pablo Iglesias will be the vice-president of Spain. A dream, a challenge, a huge responsibility. In the coming weeks, the capabilities and names of the new government will be further detailed, but the left-wing coalition is a historical fact and moment in Spain and unique in whole Europe.
It has been a difficult journey and the challenge is colossal. As one important Spanish journalist said: ‘If this co-government fails, the right will govern in Spain until Princess Leonor has grandchildren, and, if it succeeds, it can begin to rebuild the European left together with Portugal.’
At the moment we only have the volition of a notably progressive government and a political agreement over the main lines of action, which does not forget Europe, as you will see. Please find the preliminary agreement below.
It is only a step, but a step in the right direction. Greece opened the way to a leftist government in Europe, today it is Spain that is contributing another impulse to change the neoliberal and savagely capitalist direction of contemporary European politics. It is a step that gives us hope.
How did we come to this coalition government?
It was unthinkable a few months ago. What then happened that led to an agreement that was not possible a short while ago? Several important things:
The 10 November elections were the fourth general elections in four years in Spain, evident clear example of the political regime crisis that Spain is experiencing after the harsh economic crisis that hit the Spanish working class. The crisis swept away the political system that had ruled the country since the restoration of democracy in 1976; the system of two political parties, the social democrats and conservatives, PSOE and PP, which had taken turns in government with successive absolute majorities, exploded through the air with the appearance of two new political parties (Podemos on the left and Ciudadanos on the right) and the end of the territorial consensus with the Catalan bourgeoisie on the territorial model.
After two elections in 2015 and 2016 that did not solve the problem of governance, in the 2019 April elections the social democrats won but only narrowly, which prevented them from governing alone. The only possible government option was with Unidas Podemos, which demanded to enter as part of a left-wing coalition government. The prospect of Unidas Podemos ministers in the government set off all the alarms, especially in the banking and employer sector. The PSOE made an electoral calculation – a poor one – and decided to repeat the elections.
In the same period, the Catalan bourgeoisie, which had always played a crucial stabilising role in the governance of Spain, reaching agreements neither with the PP nor the PSOE, ignited a demand for independence by Catalonia with a nationalist discourse having broad popular support. The ‘process’ culminated with immense demonstrations and the call for a referendum, violently repressed by the police force and in a political trial against the leaders of the movement, whose sentence would, completely predictably, cause huge popular discontent in Catalonia. It all exploded the day the sentence that brutally condemned the political and social leaders of the ‘process’ was made known. They were sentenced to prison terms from nine to twelve years. The streets of Barcelona burned and in the rest of the country a nationalist flicker (in this case Spanish) was triggered. This set off an irrational debate about the unity of Spain and against Catalonian independence, with an equally brutal result: the meteoric rise of the extreme right in Spain.
In recalling elections, Pedro Sánchez’s (PSOE) intention was twofold: to harden his position against Catalonia, taking advantage of the sentences, through a harsh response to the separatists, and to weaken Unidas Podemos, blaming them for the repeat elections, by exhuming the dictator Franco from his tomb-monument, hoping thus to attract the favour of the left electorate. He succeeded in neither.
After these elections, the left spectrum represented by Unidas Podemos has managed to survive a difficult situation. UP is losing 7 seats, but maintaining almost 13% of votes, despite the media’s promotion of a new party, a split-off led by the former number two of Podemos, which has failed in its attempt to become a relevant political force (it has only managed to get 3 seats). But the fragmentation of the left vote has given Vox and the PP a handful of deputies. Unforgivable. Fragmentation of the left is usually has negative results.
Most worrying is the rise of the extreme right Vox, which has gotten 15% of votes, although it should be noted that it has done based also on the near disappearance of the other party of the liberal right, Ciudadanos. That is, the number of votes on the right has not increased but only changed hands. The problem is that now those hands are more right-wing than ever.
The wonderful paradox is that the Spanish elections were repeated with the aim of achieving stability. Yet people have voted the same instability as before, even more so, in a way that could only be resolved through a coalition government. In addition, to increase the irony, explicit or implicit support from Catalonian and Basque parties will be necessary, and Unidas Podemos will be able to help this happen.
Which is to say, there will be a progressive coalition government in Spain because there was no alternative, but, if only for that reason, the reality is that there will be a government in Spain with leftist ministers, a deeply Europeanist one. For the European left this is good news: hope is springing from the south.
Preliminary agreement between PSOE and Unidas Podemos
‘PSOE and Unidas Podemos have reached a pre-agreement to form a progressive coalition government that makes Spain a point of reference for the protection of social rights in Europe, in accordance with the wish expressed by the Spanish electorate.
Both political formations agree on the importance of commiting to defend freedom, tolerance, and a respect for democratic values, thus creating a guideline for government action in accordance with the best European tradition.
The urgent core of action of the progressive coalition government is the response to the main challenges that are facing Spanish society as a whole:
1.- Consolidating growth and job creation. Combating the precariousness of the labour market and guaranteeing decent, stable, and quality work.
2.- Working for regeneration [of Spain’s political system – ed.] and fighting corruption. Protecting public services, especially education – including nursery schools for children through their first three years, public health, and care for those in need. Protecting our older people’s pensions by ensuring the sustainability of the public pension system and its revaluation based on the cost of living. Housing as a right and not as mere commodity. Investing in science as an engine of economic innovation and creating more dignified working conditions for the sector. Recovering talent that has emigrated abroad. Controlling the spread of betting houses.
3.- Fighting climate change: a fair ecological transition, the protection of our biodiversity and guaranteeing the decent treatment of animals.
4.- Strengthening small and medium-sized enterprises and freelance workers. Promoting reindustrialisation and the primary sector as a whole – a government promotion of wealth, welfare, and employment creation, as well as digitalisation.
5.- Approving new rights that deepen the recognition of people’s dignity such as the right to a dignified death, euthanasia, the safeguarding of diversity, and ensuring that Spain is a country of historical memory and dignity.
6.- Guaranteeing culture as a right and combating precariousness in the sector. Promoting sport as a guarantee of health, social integration, and quality of life.
7.- Feminist policies: guaranteeing the safety, independence, and freedom of women through the determined struggle against sexist violence, for equal pay, the establishment of equal and non-transferable paternity and maternity leave, the end of trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and establishing a labour law of enforcing gender equality.
8.- Reversing depopulation: resolute support for the so-called ‘empty Spain’.
9.- Guaranteeing coexistence in Catalonia: the Government of Spain will prioritise a guarantee of coexistence in Catalonia and the normalisation of its political life. To that end, dialogue in Catalonia will be encouraged, seeking understanding and a communication, always within the Constitution. The status of the Autonomous Regions will also be strengthened to ensure the adequate provision of the rights and services within their competence. We will guarantee equality among all Spaniards.
10.- Fiscal justice and balanced budget. The evaluation and control of public spending is essential for the maintenance of a solid and lasting welfare state. The government will promote social policies and new rights under Spain’s fiscal responsibility agreements with Europe, thanks to a fair and progressive tax reform that brings us closer to Europe and in which tax privileges are eliminated.’