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A new Moncloa Pact for Spain? Not everyones sure

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wants the coronavirus pandemic to bring together politicians of..



Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wants the coronavirus pandemic to bring together politicians of all stripes, just like back in 1977.

As tensions increase over the countrys response to the coronavirus crisis, Sánchezs 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 Spains journey to democracy.

“I dont 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 Sánchezs leftish coalition government.

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 Sánchezs offer to talk, saying it will only engage if the entire government steps down.

“Do not sell us your puppet play for which you dont 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 oppositions 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.

Political marketing

The Moncloa Pacts saw all eight political forces in the late ’70s come together with a common goal.

Named after the PMs 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 governments 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, Spains currency at the time, could be devalued.

According to José Félix Sanz, a professor of applied economics at Complutense University of Madrid, Sánchezs 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, theres 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 youre really committed to reaching a pact of that magnitude, you cannot put forward measures that are going to compromise the national budget and the countrys 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 PPs 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 ministers 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 Sánchezs 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.”

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Spain records historic fall in unemployment following end of state of alarm




The Spanish job market is steadily recovering from the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis, according to data presented on Wednesday by the Labor and Social Security ministries. These figures showed that the number of people registered as unemployed in Spain fell to 3,781,250 in May – a drop of 129,378 since April. This is the largest monthly fall ever recorded in the statistical series, which dates back to 1996. The last time a similar drop was seen was in 2017.

The historic fall in jobless numbers coincided with the end of the state of alarm on May 9, which saw coronavirus restrictions, such as nighttime curfews and a ban on inter-regional travel, lifted. This in turn boosted activity in sectors such as tourism and the hospitality industry.

Spain is a long way from where it was in February, when unemployment numbers broke the four-million mark. This figure began to decline in April, and the fall was consolidated in May, as the Covid-19 vaccination campaign gathered speed and restrictions were eased.

“This historical and magnificent data point is not due to the success of the government or the [Labor] Ministry, but rather of the Spanish people, who together have been able to face down the biggest crisis in history while maintaining the productive process,” said Joaquín Pérez Rey, the secretary of state for employment and social economy, while presenting the figures.

The number of Social Security contributors, considered a sign of job creation, also continues to rise. In May, the average number of contributors was 19,267,221 – up 211,932 on the average in April, for a monthly rise of 1.11%. “The Spanish economy has entered a new phase, the recovery is underway, and that is what all economic indicators are telling us,” said Economy Minister Nadia Calviño on Wednesday at the opening of the 2021 Aslan Congress on digital transformation in Madrid.

But the number of people registered as jobless does not include those on the government’s ERTE job retention scheme, which allows employers to temporarily send staff home or reduce their working hours. According to Social Security figures released on Wednesday, there were 542,142 workers on the ERTE program in May – down from 638,283 in April. This is the lowest figure since May 2020, when 3.6 million people were on the furlough scheme – the highest figure of the statistical series. Since then, 85% of furloughed workers have been reincorporated into the workforce.

As the number of workers on an ERTE falls, so too has government spending on the job retention scheme. In May, €632 million went to the program, the lowest figure since the beginning of the pandemic. The total cost of the scheme since April 2020 stands at €17.74 billion.

The ERTE job retention scheme has been extended until September 30, but experts say it is likely the program will be extended again, although it is not yet known how or to what degree this will happen. “As long as it remains necessary and we are hit by the crisis, this support is going to be available. Businesses and workers need security,” said Labor Minister Yolanda Díaz during a radio interview with the Catalan station RAC1.

The recovery of the job market in May was seen across all sectors: agriculture recorded the biggest fall in unemployment, with a drop of 4.78%, followed by the services sector (-3.39%), industry (-3.05%) and construction (-2.71%). But the biggest improvement was recorded in the under-25 age group. In this demographic, the number of people unemployed fell by 32,990 in May, a drop of 9.27% and triple the overall fall. Meanwhile, the Spanish regions that saw the largest decline in jobless numbers were Andalusia (-28,561), Catalonia (-15,368) and Valencia (-12,385).

“There are indicators that are telling us that we are on a good path, but that we are not going fast enough,” said Florentino Felgueroso, an expert in economics at Oviedo University. According to Felgueroso, the number of Social Security contributors is yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. “This May there were two million contributors, but in the same month in 2019, there were 2.6 million, 600,000 more, which is nearly a fourth,” he said. “This warns us that the [economic] engine is still at half throttle.”

And it’s a similar story for new contracts, said Felgueroso, who pointed out that more than 1.5 million were signed last month, compared to 2.1 million in May 2019. “This is where an improvement in the trend is expected in the coming months, especially in June, which is when decisions will begin to be made about the summer season,” he explained.

A total of 1,545,308 new contracts were signed in May, up 694,691 from the same month in 2020. This represents a rise of 81.67%. But over-reliance on temporary contracts continues to be a problem – 84.9% of all contracts signed in May were temporary, while only 10.1% were permanent hires.

With respect to self-employed workers, who have been among those hardest hit by the pandemic, the latest data also shows gains since April. The number of self-employed rose to 3,307,938 in May, up 15,006 from the previous month. “The May figures on unemployment and Social Security contributors are very positive, and they are in accord with what traditionally happens in the month of May without a pandemic,” said Lorenzo Amor, the president of the National Federation of Self-Employed Workers (ATA).

But Eduardo Abad, the president of the Self-Employed Workers Union (UPTA), was less optimistic: “You have to take into account that the figures for self-employment have been very negative, so it is to be expected that this situation would slowly improve.”


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Spanish minister and leftist leader receive letters with death threats and bullets




Two political leaders and the head of a law-enforcement agency in Spain have received letters containing death threats and bullets, according to reports to which EL PAÍS has had access and to information provided by the Interior Ministry.

The targets are María Gámez, head of the Civil Guard; Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Pablo Iglesias, head of the leftist party Unidas Podemos and a candidate in the upcoming Madrid regional election, a race that he joined after stepping down as a deputy prime minister from the PSOE-Unidas Podemos coalition government.

“You have 10 days to resign. The days of laughing at us are over. National Police. Civil Guard. Time is not on your side for the taponazos [very loud gunfire or explosion],” reads an anonymous letter postmarked April 19 and addressed to Grande-Marlaska. Inside the envelope were two 7.62x51mm bullets, according to the police report filed by the minister. An investigation is underway to identify the sender.

Civil Guard chief Gámez received a similar, handwritten message a day earlier, although it was also postmarked April 19. In this case, there was no mention of police forces although it used the term taponazo once more. There was one 7.62mm bullet inside the envelope.

Sources at Unidas Podemos on Thursday confirmed that Pablo Iglesias had received a letter containing “a serious death threat” but had not yet filed a formal complaint. The same sources added that this is not the first time that Iglesias has been sent messages of this nature.

“The Interior Ministry has received a letter addressed to me containing death threats against me and my family,” the political leader revealed later on Twitter. He included an image of the missive, which carried the following message written in capital letters and without punctuation marks: “Pablo Iglesias Turrión, you have let our parents and grandparents die. Your wife, your parents and you are sentenced to the death penalty. Your time is running out.” The party originally said that it contained two rounds of the type used with Spanish CETME rifles, but Iglesias himself said there were four.

“This is just another consequence of normalizing and whitewashing the hate speech of the far right. And it is also a consequence of impunity,” said Iglesias on Twitter, lamenting that there has been “not a single arrest” over the attack on his party’s headquarters in Cartagena (Murcia) with a Molotov cocktail in early April.

Iglesias also noted that a former member of La Legión, an elite military unit, “got off scot-free” after firing live ammunition at photographs of government members in front of a camera and laughing about it. He also mentioned the lack of legal consequences for the retired members of the military who talked about executing 26 million “red” Spaniards on a social media chat group. “How can they not feel absolute impunity to send us death threats with assault weapon bullets?”

Iglesias went on to say that the attacks are not just against him and his family but about “you, your right to vote for whomever you like and to exercise your freedom. They are threatening democracy.”

The PSOE candidate in the Madrid election, Ángel Gabilondo, turned to Twitter to show support for all three targets of the death threats. “Hate speech and divisiveness have very serious consequences for our democracy. Let’s avoid an escalation of cruelty.”

Mónica García, the contender for the small leftist party Más Madrid, wrote that “there is no room for hate and violence” in society.


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Catalan regional election to be held on February 14, court confirms




Convicted leaders of the 2017 secession attempt in Catalonia who are serving time in regional prisons walked out on Friday after the Catalan government granted them a more open regime. Approval of the tercer grado, which allows prisoners to spend only nights in prison, coincided with the start of an election campaign in Spain’s northeastern region.

Also on Friday, the High Court of Catalonia (TSJC) confirmed that an upcoming regional election will take place on February 14, not on May 30, ending weeks of uncertainty over the date of the polls.

The Catalan government had sought to postpone the original date on the grounds that the coronavirus crisis would make it difficult for many people to vote while staying safe. Critics said the date change was politically motivated and unlawful.

The TSJC court had provisionally upheld an appeal against the change, and on Friday it confirmed this decision, which could still be challenged before the Supreme Court but would not alter the election date.

Released prisoners

The separatist leaders on a more flexible regime will now be able to take part in their own parties’ campaign events if they wish to.

Dolors Bassa, who was a Cabinet member at the time of the unilateral independence declaration of October 2017, was the first of the group to walk out of prison on Friday. After leaving the women’s facility of Puig de les Basses in Figueres (Girona) at around 8.45am, she urged sympathizers to go vote on February 14 “to win again.”

At 10.30am, Lledoners prison in Barcelona released Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart, leaders of two civil society groups convicted of participating in the breakaway attempt, and the former Cabinet members Oriol Junqueras, Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull, Joaquim Forn and Josep Rull. The group emerged carrying a sign calling for “amnesty.” The only member of the group to remain in prison is former Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell, who is still awaiting a decision.

All nine were convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds by Spain’s Supreme Court and are serving sentences ranging from nine to 13 years. The Catalan government granted them tercer grado status once before last year, but the move was struck down by the Supreme Court in December and the group returned to prison. However, eligibility for this regime undergoes review every six months, and the regional executive, which is headed by a separatist coalition, has again granted them this status.

Prosecutors are planning to appeal the decision, but the timing of legal procedures means that the separatist leaders will be on daytime prison leave for much of the election campaign, if not all of it. While none of them are running as candidates, their presence could help energize pro-independence voters. Inversely, if they were sent back to prison it would provide fuel to the movement’s claims of political repression.

Election dates

Secessionists are also framing the legal tussle over the election date as further proof of alleged meddling in Catalonia’s political and institutional life.

In a rare agreement between separatist and conservative parties, the postponement to May had been backed by all political groups in the regional parliament except for the Catalan Socialists (PSC) – the Catalan branch of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) – who had insisted on preserving the February date.

Salvador Illa, the Spanish health minister until this week, has stepped down to run for the regional premiership with the PSC, and a recent poll by the state-funded Center for Sociological Studies (CIS) research center suggested the possibility of a technical tie between the PSC and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), one of the two partners in the Catalan government coalition.

Both ERC and its partner Together for Catalonia believe that the PSOE is behind the legal challenge to the May postponement, and that the real reason is a desire to make the most of the impact on public opinion from the news that the high-profile Illa will be the Socialist nominee to lead the region.

But a more recent poll by the Catalan government’s Center for Opinion Studies (CEO) shows ERC winning on February 14 with 34 to 35 seats in the regional parliament, followed by Together for Catalonia with 32 to 34. This would ensure the separatist bloc’s absolute majority in the 135-strong house with 51.2% of the vote.

The election will seek to bring stability to a government that’s been under an acting leader, Pere Aragonés, ever since September, when the Spanish Supreme Court upheld an 18-month ban from public office against Quim Torra in connection with violations of institutional neutrality during an earlier election campaign.

After Catalans go to the polls, Spaniards are expecting a two-year period of rest in a country that has been through four national elections, a European vote, regional and municipal polls, and two no-confidence motions in parliament since 2015.

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