What more should one expect from an EU social democratic and “leftist” party than the same politics from an EU conservative party?
Toni Strubell is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want
Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer
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While Spain’s social democrat president Pedro Sánchez repeatedly boasts that he heads “the most progressive government” in Spanish history, the temptation to look into the issue becomes irresistible now that his first year in office gives us the excuse to do so. Before anyone asks just how much “progress” they might have missed out on, research into this embarrassing claim might well end up causing many to behold in awe the endless succession of reactionary governments Spain must have had for Sánchez’s to be considered “the most progressive”.
If we start by taking a look at today’s key issue – the battle against COVID19 – Sánchez’s government is considered by many to have one of the worst track records in Europe. Spain has been widely criticized for acting late in almost all stages of the pandemic. Over the months, infection rates have been consistently higher than those in surrounding countries. Worse still has been the Spanish government’s repeated tendency to disguise figures of Coronavirus deaths. As for the distribution of EU funds to palliate its catastrophic effects, Sánchez’s government has recently stated its intention to do so by way of the country’s major corporations, a sure sign that there is little chance any beneficial effects will reach self-employed workers or the small and medium-sized companies. To add insult to injury, Sánchez has actually raised self-employed workers’ taxes in the thick of the pandemic despite the desperate predicament facing hundreds of thousands of such workers, many of whom have been unable to work since March. To make matters worse, the government has only paid 40% of the ERTEs (temporary job regularisation operations) which were promised as the pandemic got under way. This has left millions of workers without any form of income since last Spring. Not to mention is the fact that Spain now has by far the highest youth unemployment rate in the EU with 40.9 %. Nor has any effective curb been put on the evictions of vulnerable tenants, making a mockery of the so-called “leftist” Unidas Podemos’s election promise that these would stop. Predictably, the vulture funds have benefited the most here.
But it is surely this year’s budget that has most defiantly erased any shadow of “progress” in this government’s record. With regard to last year’s, the military budget – so criticized in the past by Unidas Podemos – rose by 6,5% (10.3% according to the Delàs Peace Studies Centre) despite the restrictions imposed on so many other departments by the pandemic. Investment in arms research (the government significantly changed the name of the programme from “Special Arms Programme” to “Special Modernisation Programme”) rose by a startling 30.2% with the result that it is three times larger than the budget for health Research and Development. As regards the budget for the royal family (Casa Real), it rose by 6.9%, a step seen by many as insulting in the light of the corruption that has has come to light in almost all echelons of our monarchical clan. The government also raised its own salaries almost 1%. How can this be termed “progressive” when the National Minimum Wage has been frozen (it is almost half to two thirds that of richer EU states)? Meanwhile the Minimum Income Programme – theoretically introduced to combat poverty – has only been applied with great delay and restrictions as thousands went jobless. Indeed, after the first few months of its application, some reports estimated that 99% of the half a million applications made had been turned down. One may argue that this is a reflection of Spain’s catastrophic economic situation. But in what way can it be described as “progressive” to shatter the hopes of an increasingly desperate population with one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU? However, to finally dispel any trace of “progressive” policy in this government, it is doubtlessly last week’s 27% rise in electricity prices that takes the biscuit, especially as the measure was introduced amid some of the bitterest of winter weather in decades.
“Progressive” tolerance towards fascism…
But it is not only referring to the economy as “progressive” as Sánchez does that is a joke. His alarming laxity in the face of the alarming spread of Fascism is anything but progressive. In the last month the press has revealed many worrying cases of this: offers to the king of soldiers willing to “give their lives” to topple the government; whatsapp chats in which retired high-ranking military officers call for mass executions of political opponents; a growing proliferation of videos featuring uniformed soldiers making Nazi salutes and singing fascist songs, you name it. This makes Donald Trump look like a choirboy. But despite all this evidence, King Felipe has failed to make the slightest gesture to condemn such behaviour, despite plentiful opportunities to do so. Nor has Pedro Sánchez’s government done anything other than utter weak calls to “respect the Constitution”, constantly describing the phenomenon as the antics of a “minority”. Recently Defence minister Margarita Robles went so far as to accuse opposition leaders of having “prejudices” in this field. Really?
If one may be allowed a comparison with this situation, let us imagine the international scandal that would arise if Angela Merkel were to trivialise the fact that Marineschule Mürwik officers were recorded singing Nazi hymns and raising their arms in fascist salute. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? For while Germany’s penal code prohibits all Nazi symbols, to exhibit Francoist ones in Spain was decriminalized some years ago. Not surprisingly, the “most progressive government” in Spanish history is showing no intention of rectifying this. Who can be surprised that Fascism is spreading in Spain when shouting “Viva Franco” or buying €8 Francoist flags or bottles of wine with Franco’s face are permitted. The “progressive” government of Sánchez not only fails to put an end to this phenomenon but handsomely rewards police officers who took part in the attack on Catalan polling stations at the 2017 Referendum while openly instructing State prosecutors to act in exactly the same way as they did under Rajoy. Exactly what is “progressive” about that?
It cannot be denied that the PSOE-Unidas Podemos government systematically turns a blind eye on the rise of fascism. All it does is to occasionally call for investigation into cases it considers “isolated”. No attempt is made to get to the root of a problem that is widespread and systemic. Could this be, as some suggest, that this happens because they themselves form part of the system that permits this? There is no doubt that Sánchez’s government shows none of the progressive ideology that should abhor the jailing of political dissidents, refrain from keeping a corrupt monarchy afloat, and put people’s interests before those of the banks. But it does just the opposite. It shows no will whatsoever to resolve the Catalan conflict democratically and regards the rulings of international bodies with the same insulting indifference that the conservative Rajoy government had done before. Indeed, if Sánchez’s government is “the most progressive in history”, it must be seen as no surprise that Spain is the democratic quagmire it is today, with the EU’s blessing.