THE EURO ZONE
On Tuesday, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez announced that Spain would take in 60 of the 141 migrants collected by a rescue ship off the Libyan coast last Friday; the remaining passengers will be split between Germany, France, Luxembourg and Portugal.
It's not quite as generous a deal as that made by Spain two months ago - when Sánchez welcomed over 600 migrants off the Aquarius and two other rescue boats - but one that shows how different the new Spanish government's approach to migration is from that of its Conservative predecessor. One wonders, though, how Spain can support this change in policy direction.
Back in June, Sánchez agreed to take in 630 migrants aboard the Aquarius and two Italian navy ships, after both Italy and Malta turned the refugees away. A few days after allowing the ships to dock in Valencia, the PSOE leader announced his intention to reinstate free healthcare to undocumented migrants living in Spain (currently estimated at around 800,000), an entitlement that the Conservative government of Mariano Rajoy removed in 2012 as part of an austerity programme.
Italy's interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said that Sánchez's welcome of Aquarius encouraged "out of control immigration"; Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell, meanwhile, argued that in turning down the rescue ship, Salvini was "doing politics at the expense not just of Spain, but at the expense of all of Europe". Both seemed to have a point: Salvini highlighted the fact that Sánchez's approach to immigration might be too indiscriminate, while Borrell's remarks were a call for EU countries to work more closely together on the matter.
Indeed, Italy's recent crackdown on migration is one reason Spain is suddenly having to deal with more arrivals. The increased risk of taking the central Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy has resulted in more people heading directly to Spain; in total, 25,000 migrants have so far arrived here via sea-crossings this year. According to the International Organisation for Migration, that's three times as many as in the same period in 2017.
Like other decisions or policy announcements made by Sánchez, his recent welcome of migrant rescue ships seems like a PR move unsupported by thought for consequences. With such decisions, the PSOE leader certainly distinguishes himself from the Popular Party under Rajoy and other right-wing governments such as Salvini's. But where are his proposals for how local and regional infrastructures are to deal with a potentially unprecedented influx of migrants?
With his eye on the 2020 general election, Sánchez is trying to increase support for Spain's Socialist party. So far, he's succeeding: the PSOE has leapt from fourth to first place in opinion polls in just three months. But if he's to succeed long-term, Sánchez needs to concentrate less on PR and more on policy detail. The tough issue of migration would be a good place to start.