Enrique Santiago was the guest in the eighth edition of transform! europe’s webinar series “Meeting the Left”.
Enrique Santiago, is a lawyer, Deputy in the Spanish Parliament for Unidas Podemos and Secretary General of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE), as well as member of the Federal Board of Izquierda Unida. As a lawyer, he has played a leading role in such important cases as the Pinochet or Scilingo cases (related to torture practised by Latin-American dictatorships) and the Bárcenas case, focused on corruption in the Spanish People’s Party. He has recently collaborated as a legal advisor in the Havana Dialogues on the peace process in Colombia.
The Covidcrisis and the left in the Spanish government
Santiago recalled that Unidas Podemos (UP) entered the government of Spain after an 80-year hiatus in which the radical left remained outside government ever since the fall of the Second Republic in 1939.
‘It was not easy, and it was all the more difficult when the Pandemic arrived, just two months after we entered government. If this had not been the case, the health, economic, and social crisis would have been paid for by the most vulnerable people, as has happened in previous crisis.’
The presence of UP has made it possible to maintain employment at acceptable rates, avoiding mass unemployment and to establish the so-called ‘Social Shield’, a package of protective measures for people.
Among the most important of these measures Santiago highlighted:
"Protecting workers through Temporary Employment Regulatory Records guaranteed by the government for those companies that had to paralyze their activity as a consequence of the State of Emergency, avoiding firings (which helped more than three million workers); aid to small and medium-sized enterprises compensating the reduction of their activity; aid for the first time in our history for domestic workers; the extension of pre-Covid-19 unemployment indeminities; the prohibition of layoffs due to illness (which the labour regulations of previous governments had permitted ); suspension of tenant evictions; a guarantee of basic services (water and electricity) regardless of ability to pay; the approval of a ‘minimum income’ for families without the means to sustain a decent life."
The struggle against far right – facing Spain’s current dilemma
Santiago affirmed that in Spain ‘there is not only the problem of the extreme right, but there is also a radicalisation of traditional conservative parties. The entire right-wing spectrum is cooperating in the destabilisation of our government’.
In Spain, according to Santiago, the left is actively working against the extreme right, which has even called for a coup d’état against the coalition government. The left is countering this in four different areas: in the legal sphere, it is prosecuring the extreme right’s undemocratic behaviour; in the area of communications, it is defending itself against the campaign of continual lies through fake news; in the political sphere, it is deploying the anti-neoliberal ‘Social Shield’ to protect the most vulnerable sectors, preventing fear and uncertainty from leading to hate-motivated authoritarian expressions; and, finally, it is trying to build a new European project, in which the peoples of Europe can recover their sovereignty against the economic powers and, therefore, build a shared sovereignty far from the current model that responds to the interests of global financial capitalism.
The main challenges for the left at the European level
"The absence of of EU measures to respond to the current crisis has led to a feeling of distance among Spaniards from what the European Union represents because the first reaction of the European authoritiesto the Spanish people was contempt", Santiago recalled. "This presents the left with a major challenge. From a Spanish left point of view, the EU model is unable to respond to the needs of the people."
According to Santiago, solidarity funds from the EU ought not to be determined by neoliberal rules of economic and financial stability, all the less so in the midst of a natural disaster like Covid-19. More fiscal and less monetary policies are needed. Santiago pointed out that "we do not accept the notion that the countries of Southern Europe are being assisted by the Northern Europe countries. Spain’s industrial and productive sector has been dismantled due to European priorities, making it into a country serving the rest of Europe, with little added value". We are in favour of the unity of Europe, but under popular control, not run by shady institutions without democratic control.
Finally, in relation to Europe’s left, Santiago affirmed that for a progressive programme a very broad vision of alliances is necessary. A broad alliance of the entire alternative left is necessary, which maintains that the capitalist system is enormously unfair, and wants to go beyond it. "We must be able to build large democratic blocs for the defence of public services, to guarantee the fundamental rights of all people, and to guarantee sustainable development and an economy that is respectful of the planet", concluded Santiago.
Watch the full interview with Enrique Santiago.