vives9_ Pablo Blazquez DominguezGetty Images_spainpedrosanchezpabloiglesias Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

The Spanish Left Takes Center Stage

Spain's new coalition government will face significant challenges as it tries to reconcile a left-wing agenda with the need for fiscal sustainability. It will also have to confront the "Catalan question" and other sources of political polarization – and all with a razor-thin majority.

BARCELONA – After enduring two general elections in 2019, Spain now has its first coalition government since the death of Generalísimo Francisco Franco. Led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialists and Pablo Iglesias of the radical left Podemos, the coalition was forged with the explicit support of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), and with a crucial negotiated abstention on the part of the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC). Following an extremely close parliamentary vote – with 167 yeas, 165 nays, and 18 abstentions – the coalition will face fierce opposition from the right-wing People’s Party (PP) and a now-diminished Ciudadanos, as well as Vox, a rising far-right party.

The coalition’s objective is to “make Spain a reference point for the protection of social rights in Europe.” At the center of its program is a plan to reverse the crisis measures adopted by the previous PP-led government under Mariano Rajoy, which slashed social spending and introduced labor and pension reforms.

The coalition’s intent is not to breach EU fiscal guidelines or cast doubt on Spain’s eurozone membership. But, now that Spain has recovered from the post-2008 recession and regained its competitiveness, the new government wants to address the effects of unemployment (which has fallen from 25%, but remains above 14%) and salary cuts incurred over the past decade. A significant segment of the population has yet to benefit from the recovery, and is struggling to cope with rising housing prices and rents.

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