Trans-Europe Express: Is Sánchez a man with a plan?

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

Last month, Pedro Sánchez brought a new and unexpected result to the European ballot box.

Sánchez returned to his post as secretary general of Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) after a bitter campaign against Susana Díaz, the powerful president of Andalucía who was supported by the barons of the party.

The Socialist’s victory should have been expected given that his fellow PSOE members would vote against the apparatchik.

But it surprised many that, after two consecutive election defeats in December 2015 and June 2016, Socialist militants once again placed their trust in him.

Following the strategy of Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Sánchez believes that the road to power lies in returning Spain’s Socialist Party to its very essence.

In his narrative, this authentic PSOE is the only option to oppose Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whom he describes as “the enemy”.

Sánchez’s refusal to allow the re-election of the centre-right candidate was what triggered the Socialist rebellion that deposed him last October.

In order to realise his plan, Sánchez is trying to build an “alternative majority” with the left-wing Podemos and the liberal Ciudadanos parties.

The strategy already failed last spring, as Podemos’ leader and former MEP Pablo Iglesias, and Ciudadanos’ Albert Rivera, seen as Spain’s Macron, rejected each other.

The liberal party leader warned Sánchez that the days of their partnership were over.

Rivera, who finally supported Rajoy, warned that he is not in the business of destabilising the government every three months.

As short-term options narrow, Sánchez is looking further ahead. He is getting closer to Iglesias but the Socialist may not intend to build a left-wing bloc, instead choosing to regain the leftist voters he lost to Podemos.

This week, the PSOE said that it would reject the EU-Canada free trade agreement.

But if the PSOE takes an “anti-European turn” with CETA and keeps moving closer to Podemos, supporting tax hikes and its position on Catalonia, Rivera warned that the Socialists would keep moving away not only from Ciudadanos but also “the majority of Spanish people”.

While the CETA remarks tarnished Sánchez’s meeting with fellow socialist and French European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, his statements in relation to Catalonia risk alienating more voters who opposed a description of Spain as a “nation of nations”.

Sánchez, who resigned from his seat in Spain’s parliament last October, hopes that his strategy to reinvigorate the PSOE by appealing to the rank-and-file members could also bring back the wider Spanish electorate.

But while he struggles to control his party, to dominate the left side of the political spectrum and convince voters, Rajoy maintains a comfortable advantage in the polls, seemingly immune to his numerous corruption scandals.

Spain’s centre-right leader also gathered enough votes to pass the first draft budget of his new term.

By sealing the budget agreement, Rajoy’s minority government won a landmark battle in parliament, improving the likelihood of concluding his term in 2020.

The question is whether three years will be enough for Sánchez to prepare the Socialist comeback.

The Inside Track

The road not taken. A report by a German think tank reveals the deficiencies of the deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees to Europe. Most importantly, migrants have redirected themselves through Bulgaria instead.

Neither Bulgaria nor Greece. During new Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s visit to Sofia on Tuesday, it was announced that Bulgaria and Macedonia will soon sign a bilateral treaty, removing a number of obstacles to Skopje’s bid to join NATO and the EU.

Adam Smith in the Balkans. In a study commissioned by Mastercard, two-thirds of Serbians said the shadow economy limits the state’s ability to provide public services. 8 out of 10 said it inhibits growth. For a country in which undocumented trade accounts for 30% of its GDP, the concern could not be clearer.

Don’t call it socialism. Negotiations are beginning on the future of the European budget, which also includes funds financing cohesion policy. Meeting in Strasbourg, MEPs agreed they should not be reduced. Aktuálně reports.

Free to be you and me. In a recent EURACTIV.com interview, Heather Grabbe, the director of the Soros-funded European Policy Institute wrongly claims that Hungary’s new NGO law is “discriminatory” and is cracking down on dissent, argues government spokesman Zoltán Kovács.

If only he’d defend the CEU. As the Erasmus programme celebrated its 30th anniversary this week, Hungarian Education Commissioner Tibor Navracsics told EURACTIV partner EFE the scheme is “one of the greatest achievements of the European Union”.

Greece loves the EU. Greek S&D lawmaker Eva Kaili (PASOK) and EPP MEP Maria Spyraki (New Democracy) and Cypriot GUEL/NGL lawmaker Takis Hadjigeorgiou (AKEL) discuss education, employment and entrepreneurship in Greece and Cyprus with EURACTIV.gr’s Aria Koutra.

Careful or you’ll get Grillo. Ahead of this week’s European summit, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni told the country’s Senate that the Brexit vote was not a catastrophe for the European Union but serves as a tough wake-up call. Class EURACTIV Italy reports.

Le Pen En Marche! Three of Emmanuel Macron’s ministers have resigned to protect the government from a potential scandal over the employment of assistants in the European Parliament. The former ALDE MEPs anchored Macron’s government firmly on the EU stage.

Chile has a female president. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström wants to include a chapter on gender equality in an update to the bloc’s trade deal with Chile, which is due to be negotiated soon.

Decentralised interconnectivity. Security of supply should remain a national responsibility, General Secretary of ENTSO-E Laurent Schmitt told EURACTIV Slovakia.