Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, plagued by corruption scandals, lost a confidence vote in the Spanish parliament on Friday (1 June) and will be replaced by opposition leader Pedro Sánchez, a socialist who vowed to call elections soon.
Rajoy, the leader of Partido Popular (EPP), thus became the first premier in Spanish democratic history to lose a no-confidence motion, which was supported by 180 deputies, including Catalan separatists and Basque PNV, while 169 MPs voted against.
“It has been an honour to be the prime minister of Spain,” Rajoy said ahead of the vote that will take him and his party out of government, after a high Spanish court ruled that his party had been involved in a major corruption scandal, known as the Gürtel case.
Last week’s ruling was the final straw in Rajoy’s downfall, even though the Galician politician was long considered a political survivor as he had weathered several corruption cases during his six years at the helm. But he was also the first serving Spanish PM to testify in a criminal case.
Sánchez to govern in minority
The no-confidence vote was triggered by the Socialists, the main opposition party. Sánchez, who will be sworn in on Saturday, will have to rule with a minority government as his socialists only hold 84 out of the 350 seats in the Spanish Parliament.
But Sánchez is a survivor too: the PSOE’s leader was forced out once by his own political party in 2016 and even gave up his seat in parliament, only to reclaim leadership of the party a year later.
The socialist leader has vowed to govern for a few months before calling a general election, but it is still not clear when that would happen. In his interventions in the no-confidence debate, Sánchez promised to maintain the recently approved budget and to open dialogue with separatists in Catalonia.
Europe remains calm
Given the rise of a Eurosceptic government in Italy, the Spanish case seems less worrying for Brussels, as even with a socialist minority government, the Spanish parliament still has a pro-European majority.
In a statement issued today, Sergei Stanishev, the president of the Party of European Socialists, said he trusted Sánchez would “shift away” from austerity policies.
“The conservative government of Rajoy has been brought down by its own corruption. The new prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, represents a chance for a new start in Spain and in Europe,” stated Stanishev.
Congratulations Pedro Sánchez on your election as the new prime minister of Spain. A progressive and an honest pro-European will lead the country!!!!!!!#MocionCensura #MocionPsoeARV pic.twitter.com/PxpYPGVPzq
— PES (@PES_PSE) June 1, 2018
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker congratulated the newly elected prime minister. In his letter, Juncker expresses his “confidence in the Spanish government to continue contributing to a stronger, more united, fairer European Union”.
The Commission president said he trusted Spain’s “commitment to the European project” and welcomed Sánchez’s commitment to maintaining the recently approved budget.
European Council President Donald Tusk joined in the congratulations.