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Quid pro quo

Just three weeks into his premiership, Pedro Sánchez is already experiencing the fruitlessly "quid-pro-quo" nature of modern Spanish politics. And unsurprisingly, his first headache is being caused by the fraught issue of regional financing - something that also troubled his predecessor, deposed Popular Party (PP) leader Mariano Rajoy.

In his first question-and-answer session in congress on Wednesday, Sánchez was criticised by an MP from Compromis, a leftist Valencia group, for backtracking on an earlier promise to address imbalances in Spain's regional spending structures; Joan Baldovi said that, as it stands, the new Spanish government is "subsidising richer regions" just as Rajoy's PP did.

Any MPs wanting the new Spanish prime minister to do something about this shouldn't hold their breath, because regional financing is one of many issues over which Sánchez has barely any room for manoeuvre.

He is obliged to make sounds about addressing spending imbalances to retain the support of smaller parties on which his minority administration relies. But the elections due next spring in Andalucía, where the Socialists' have one of their strongest support bases, severely restrict Sánchez's options. Andalucía is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the present financing setup, so if the PSOE alters it, it risks losing the region's support.

Regional funding was a thorn in Rajoy's side, too. It was only by allocating extra cash to the Basque region that the former PP leader secured the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV)'s support for his 2018 budget; before that, the PNV had been withholding its votes because of Rajoy's imposition of direct rule over Catalonia.

The Basques finally said "yes" to a spending plan that allocates their region around 540 million euros in subsidies, thereby enabling the 2018 budget to progress to the PP-controlled upper chamber. And how did the PNV say thanks to Rajoy for their generous budget allowance this year? By voting against him in the no-confidence vote tabled by Sánchez!

Indeed, it was precisely because Sánchez promised to keep Rajoy's Basque-friendly budget if he became prime minister (even though his own party voted against it) that he won the PNV's support for the no-confidence motion.

The absurdly delayed 2018 budget is likely to cause Sánchez's next big headache. Outraged by the PNV's Brutus-style tactics, the PP-dominated upper chamber is said to be considering amendments to the spending plan that reduce the Basques' financial benefits. If that happens, the budget will be returned to the lower house for another vote.

Sánchez will then have to try and pass the new spending plan by selling it to his own minority government, which opposed it in the first place, and securing the votes of a party that suddenly has less money to play with than it first thought. Shouldn't be too difficult, then.