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THE EURO ZONE

A monstrous government

Finally some sort of progress is being made, with acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez looking anywhere and everywhere in an attempt to form Spain's next government before Christmas - which, assuming a political miracle hasn't occurred by the time you read this, means he has just four more days.

But given the amount of choices on offer, it's odd what the Socialist (PSOE) leader has designated as his 'Plan A': teaming up with leftist Unidas Podemos (UP) - a partnership that would still be 21 seats short of a parliamentary majority - and squeezing that deal through Congress by securing the abstentions of the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) in the investiture votes. This week, Sánchez also met with two other pro-independence parties from Catalonia and the far-left Basque group EH Bildu, showing just how far he's prepared to go to become prime minister again.

In October last year, after Catalan separatists celebrated the first anniversary of their failed independence bid, the region's president Quim Torra gave Sánchez a choice: either guarantee a legal referendum on secession within a month, or forfeit the congressional votes of pro-independence parties. The government's robust response was "we do not accept ultimatums". Times have changed or desperation has increased since then, though, as the ERC presented Sánchez with almost precisely the same ultimatum last week: open a "negotiating table" with us regarding the possibility of a referendum on Catalan independence, it said, or we'll vote against you becoming prime minister again. This time the PSOE leader caved, meaning that he's now pandering to groups whose constitutional ideologies he firmly opposes.

Inés Arrimadas, centrist Ciudadanos' glamorous spokeswoman and top bet for the party's next leader, has dubbed a PSOE-Podemos administration backed up by abstentions from the ERC and other regional parties a "Frankenstein" government. Sánchez, in one interpretation of this colourful and entirely appropriate metaphor, is like Mary Shelly's mad scientist Victor Frankenstein, cobbling together a monstrous government out of ill-fitting and inanimate parts.

In the case that the Frankensteinian Plan A fails, it's encouraging to see what Sánchez's Plan B is. This week also saw him meeting with the Conservative Popular Party (PP) and Ciudadanos, two of the parties that have come out most strongly against the Catalan secession movement and with which the Socialists would have a comfortable majority of 219 seats (far more than the 176 required). This should really be Sánchez's Plan A, so Arrimadas and PP leader Pablo Casado can only hope that the 'Frankenstein government' proves impossible, paving the way for a 'Grand Coalition' comprised of their own parties and the Socialists - a government that would actually be able to get things done.

In other words, they depend upon Sánchez's grotesque creation rebelling against him, rendering another governmental experiment necessary in the new year.

Fingers crossed.