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11/12/2016

Spain comes in from the EU cold

Future EU

Spain comes in from the EU cold

Look who’s back: Mariano Rajoy faces a number of challenges ahead of him, after finally securing enough support to form another government.

[Kiko Jimenez/ Shutterstock]

After nearly an entire year without an elected government, Spain has reclaimed its place on the European and international stage. EurActiv Spain reports.

Mariano Rajoy has once again managed to scrape together enough support to form a government, after the People’s Party (PP) garnered enough votes to end nearly a full year of no government.

The UK’s Brexit vote and election of Donald Trump to the White House will test Spanish diplomacy and the new government, as it traverses choppy political waters.

Despite the complexity of the challenges on the table, Spain is ready to face up to the humanitarian tragedy of the migrant crisis and the wave of populism washing over the continent.

European unity is threatened by the right-wing parties of Le Pen (Front National) and Petry (Alternative für Deutschland), as they play to the europhobic tendencies of the electorate.

Spain's Rajoy appoints EU-friendly Cabinet

Spain’s leader Mariano Rajoy, starting a second term after months of political paralysis in his country, formed a new cabinet last night (3 November) that looks set to maintain controversial economic reforms and cement EU ties.

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The will of Spain to regain its EU standing was evident in the statements of the new foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis Quecedo, who said that the objective is to now “push the play button and show that Spain is really back” on the political scene.

Spain, the fourth most important eurozone economy, has resumed cruising speed in the European agenda and it has plenty of homework to be getting on with. Among its most pressing challenges is dealing with its deficit and placating the European Commission.

Brussels has so far granted Madrid a lot of slack in dealing with its books and its 3.2% growth will have been duly noted, so the clock will be ticking.

Despite the “Rajoy II” cabinet taking power, it won’t have completely free reign. After months of uncertainty and two general elections, one in December 2015 and one in June, the PP’s victory was not enough for it to secure an absolute majority, which means the new government will need to reach a consensus on many of its crucial decisions, including one of the most delicate: the 2017 budget.

Brussels makes timid fiscal push to reverse austerity, counter populist wave

The European Commission stepped up its efforts to leave austerity behind on Wednesday (16 November) by advocating for the first time a timid expansionary fiscal policy for the eurozone and forgiving Spain and Portugal for breaching EU budget rules.

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However, according to many political observers, the main weakness of Rajoy II may not be immediately obvious. As recent polls show, the PP has risen in popularity, at the expense of other parties.

If other parties, especially the PSOE, block the 2017 budget, Rajoy could call new elections, which, if the polls are to be believed, would be particularly harmful to the socialists.

The “minor majority” that Rajoy II enjoys, 137 seats, compared with 123 in December, means that he has to rely on allies Ciudadanos, one of the political parties that has shot up in popularity recently, along with Podemos, on the back of citizen dissatisfaction with the traditional PP and PSOE parties.

The acute crisis of PSOE, whose former secretary-general, Pedro Sánchez, tried unsuccessfully to broker a coalition of radical left forces, including the Catalan independence separatists, was one of the main reasons why the interim government limped along for so long.

The PSOE’s struggles, which fractured a century-old alliance of parties, left the party at its lowest point in the polls since the restoration of democracy in 1975, following the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, and the start of the Spanish transition that lasted until 1978.

Sánchez collided head on with the less extreme faction of the PSOE, who decided to neutralise him and force his resignation, which he tendered in October.

The need for the socialists to get their act together was perfectly illustrated by an October poll (CIS) which put the PSOE in an unprecedented third place behind the PP and Podemos.

Europe's socialists in disarray, Germany tries to plot course away from trouble

No matter where you look in Europe, socialists are in a tight spot. In the south, their voters are jumping ship to the left and in the north they are haemorraging support to the extreme parties of both the left and right. EurActiv Germany reports.

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Away from a national context, Spain, which has hosted four military bases since the 1950s, has to start thinking about how Donald Trump’s election victory will have an impact.

There are many who have called for these bases to be maintained, despite Trump’s posturing about NATO, as they indirectly generate many jobs in the surrounding towns and cities.

One of the most recurrent questions being asked in Spain at the moment is who is going to pay for European defence, especially if Trump follows through on his pledges to cut back on NATO involvement.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned about departing from the defensive pact in the current climate: “we face the biggest security challenges of our generation. Now is not the moment to question the value of the Europe-US association.”

However, outgoing President Barack Obama moved to reassure Europe, who insisted that after his meeting with Trump last week that there is a “commitment to NATO and the transatlantic alliance”.

Spanish ex-foreign minister: 'Either we defend ourselves or there is no defence'

Spain’s former foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, told EurActiv Spain that now is not the time for alarmist reactions to Donald Trump’s US election victory and that Brexit could provide Spain with an opportunity to increase its international standing.

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If Trump’s words are not converted into real action, the EU and Spain will nevertheless have to start thinking about a new European defence strategy, less dependent of Washington.

In that sense, Dastis on Monday (14 November) said that Spain is ready to enter a “core of countries” that are central to the new strategy, with which the EU wants to strengthen its defence policy. Spain has closed ranks with Germany, France and Italy already. “We want to be in the vanguard of European defence,” insisted Dastis.