Spain's New Government and the Catalan Crisis

How Sánchez Plans to Undermine the Region's Independence Claims

Spainish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and new ministers hold their first cabinet meeting at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, June 2018.  Susanna Vera / REUTERS

It should come as no surprise that Spain’s new prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has made solving the separatist crisis in Catalonia his top policy priority. As the most pressing issue in Spanish politics, the Catalan crisis looms large over Sánchez’s reelection prospects. No date has been set for Spain’s next general elections, but they are widely expected to come sooner rather than later given the unusual circumstances that brought Sánchez and his Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party to power. It was through a vote of no confidence, an arcane feature of the Spanish constitution, that Sánchez was able to topple the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party. This was the first time in the history of the democratic regime that Spain inaugurated in 1977 that parliament used this procedure to force a change in government.

Even if the Catalan crisis were not so pressing an issue, it is not as if Sánchez could do much on other fronts, such as the economy. Next year’s budget was already in place before Rajoy’s ousting. And Sánchez had promised to stay the course on Rajoy’s economic program even before taking office. Although very unpopular with some of the political groups that aided Sánchez in ousting Rajoy, especially the leftist populist Podemos, Rajoy’s economic program is widely credited with restoring economic growth in Spain after the global financial crisis. Moreover, staying the course on the economy pleases international investors, EU bureaucrats, the Spanish business community, and other political groups that supported Sánchez’s move to oust Rajoy, such as the Basque Nationalist Party.

Sánchez’s strategy for solving the Catalan crisis, or at the very least for getting a grip on the situation, goes well beyond engaging the Catalan separatist government through dialogue, something the Rajoy administration had pointedly rejected. It appears that the new government’s intention is to erode Catalonia’s claims to independence by changing

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