surinenglish

tHE eURO zONE

First things first

Following his victory in the European elections last Sunday (his second electoral triumph in a month), Pedro Sánchez has set his sights on increasing Spain's influence in Brussels. This has always been one of the Socialist leader's driving aims, but in focusing so much on EU politics he risks neglecting domestic matters. Chief amongst these, of course, is the small task of forming the next Spanish government - something that is far away from completion now as it was after the election a month ago.

Sánchez's EU ambitions are understandable, even though they should take second place to more localised issues. For a country that now has one of the most rapidly growing economies in the eurozone, and which has been one of the most progressive in planning for Brexit, it is underrepresented in top Brussels institutions. The European Central Bank's vice president Luis de Guindos - who was economy minister in Mariano Rajoy's conservative administration - is currently the only Spaniard with a heavyweight EU role. Under the last Socialist government, led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero before the country's financial crisis hit, Spain had more clout in Brussels: Joaquín Almunia oversaw EU economic policy and Javier Solana led the bloc's foreign policy department. Zapatero, a committed Europhile himself, was also a key player within EU institutions.

Now, economy minister Nadia Calviño and foreign minister Josep Borrell are the two obvious choices in Sánchez's cabinet to join De Guindos in key EU roles: Calviño was the Commission's budget Director General between 2014 and 2018 and Borrell was President of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2007. Their appointment to the previous Spanish government, in fact, was largely due to their understanding of how top EU institutions operate. In selecting these politicians for powerful roles last June, Sánchez revealed his EU-related ambitions.

First, though, there's the pressing task of forming the next Spanish government, which must be completed before Sánchez can achieve anything in Brussels. The PSOE leader has rightly changed tack as regards forming a coalition with Albert Rivera's centrist Ciudadanos, announcing this week that the two must team up to prevent the Spanish far right from taking office. Rivera, though, is being unjustifiably stubborn in continuing to resist such a partnership: he maintains that Sánchez has granted Catalan separatists too much leniency and, as such, is a threat to Spanish unity (in fact, Sánchez is just opposed to secession as Rivera is, despite his controversial meetings with Catalan president Joaquim Torra).

In doing so, Rivera is preventing the formation of the most progressive government available out of all the possible coalition-combinations. It's now time for the Ciudadanos leader to show some flexibility by joining forces with the PSOE: then, and only then, will Sánchez be able to set about increasing Spain's influence in Brussel's highest institutions.