Stumbling blocks

This week saw Pedro Sánchez, Spain's new Socialist prime minister, suffer his first legislative failure in congress - and it'll be the first of many if he doesn't adjust to the deal-based nature of modern Spanish politics. Parliament voted against Sánchez's proposed 2019 budget, mainly because the PSOE leader wasn't prepared to give potential allies what they wanted in return for their votes.

It's a familiar story (the minority government of Mariano Rajoy, Sánchez's predecessor, had the same difficulties in passing legislation), and one that makes you wonder if the Socialist administration will be able to achieve anything meaningful during its time in power.

Sources in the know about the pre-vote discussions told newswires that some disagreement related to Sánchez's refusal to launch an investigation into Juan Carlos I, Spain's former king. According to allegations made against the ex-monarch by his one-time lover (an entirely reliable source, one notes), Juan Carlos stashed dodgily-acquired funds in offshore bank accounts.

The former king, along with other wealthy individuals, is alleged to have benefited from a tax amnesty introduced in 2012 by Rajoy's government (whereby previously undeclared assets could be disclosed and a one-off fee of 10% paid), although the amnesty was deemed void by Spain's constitutional court in 2017. For this reason, Sánchez says he can't comply with requests made by leftist newcomer Podemos that the ex-king be publicly named as a beneficiary of the 2012 amnesty. Nor will he investigate allegations that Juan Carlos was involved in shady offshore activities.

The PSOE leader must be privately cursing last year's court ruling. Juan Carlos - notorious for hunting elephants in Botswana in 2014, when many Spanish households were on the breadline - is one of the most reviled members of the Spanish establishment. Proving him to be a fraudster would have been a great way for Sánchez to boost his popularity and to win support from Podemos, a party on which he relies for parliamentary votes.

Sources also said that another Podemos request - namely, that Spain's deficit-reduction targets be reduced and public spending increased - was rejected by Sánchez. Fair enough: the Socialist administration has already proposed more relaxed deficit-reduction goals for Spain this year, so Sánchez doesn't want to anger the EU by pressing for further leniency. But compromise and deal-making will have to happen at some point, otherwise the PSOE leader stands little chance of passing legislation of any kind.

If such stumbling blocks continue to occur for Sánchez, there is one course of action he could pursue: call early elections and hope that his new-found popularity would secure the PSOE a greater share of seats - and thus more clout - in congress. But because the new prime minister wants his term in power, he'll have to learn the art of the deal instead.