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THE EURO ZONE

Front line politics

Pedro Sánchez's fledgling coalition made a step in the right direction last week, managing to secure parliamentary approval for key fiscal plans. In a vote on 27 February, 168 members of congress voted for and 150 voted against the measures, which propose to substantially reduce Spain's budget deficit and public debt by 2023. Although better than nothing, these are likely to be the least controversial pieces of legislation that the PSOE-Podemos government will attempt to ratify: broadly speaking, all of Spain's main parties agree on the need to reduce Spain's budget deficit and its public debt over the coming years. The big debates are yet to come and will concern other issues.

Unlike the deficit and debt-reduction goals, other planks of the government's economic policy - such as increased taxes on higher earners and reversals of Mariano Rajoy's 2012 labour reforms - won't have such an easy time when presented to parliament. These politically charged issues will face opposition from the right wing bloc composed of Ciudadanos, the Popular Party (PP) and Vox, all of which argue that tax hikes would harm consumption and competitiveness. These parties will also oppose a budget containing increased public spending - precisely what the PSOE-Podemos alliance has promised in order to improve the lot of average Spanish households.

Sánchez's minority government faces an even tougher task in passing a bill it approved this week, which classifies all non-consensual sex as rape. The draft legislation would change the current law, according to which rape is defined by violence or the threat of violence, and, if passed, would make Spain one of the most progressive countries in the EU when it comes to women's rights. But the congressional support of right wing parties, especially the reactionary forces of the PP and Vox, is unlikely.

Sánchez is also considering changing the law in order to reduce the punishment for sedition, one of the crimes for which nine leading Catalan separatists received excessive prison sentences last October. Such a proposal - discussion of which is necessary, at the very least - would not only face opposition from the Spanish right, but also from within the prime minister's own party. Emiliano García-Page, Socialist President of Castilla-La Mancha, recently said that to "water down the crime of sedition" would be tantamount to inviting it to "happen every weekend" (which probably doesn't even qualify as overstatement for the most vehement anti-secessionists).

So far, Spain's new government has been sheltering behind its defences, passing legislation by royal decree and, most recently, by a narrowly clinched vote. Given that it sits on just 155 seats in the 350-seat congress - 21 short of a majority - such progress is laudable; but it has yet to reach the front line of debate, where everything from tax raises to reforming criminal law will be battled out in parliament.