A united front

The weekly congressional debate on Wednesday was an exasperating but all-too-familiar affair. As represented by the Popular Party (PP) and Vox, the Spanish right revelled in the kind of pointlessly antagonistic, tribal behaviour that has caused so many delays and problems over the last few years.

Seemingly lacking any serious points to make, speakers for each of these two parties resorted to trivialities or absurdities, such as requesting that Pedro Sánchez wear a black tie in mourning for victims of the Covid-19 pandemic, and accusing Podemos of exploiting the situation to "impose a totalitarian Venezuelan model" on Spain. Not even an international health and economic crisis, it seems, is enough to make these leading politicians adopt a more collaborative approach in dealing with their peace-time adversaries.

But there was one encouraging feature of Wednesday's session. Unlike in previous congressional and TV debates, the government didn't respond in kind to the mudslinging and accusations. Instead, both Sánchez and Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias repeatedly made appeals for cross-party collaboration, in order to more effectively deal with the pandemic and its economic consequences.

Sánchez is right to ask his opponents, chief among them the perennially combative PP and Vox, to engage in "another way of doing politics". The adversarial, finger-pointing tactics employed by those two parties on Wednesday will only cause unnecessary delays in managing the after-effects of Covid-19, just as they have done in other scenarios. Instead, Sánchez wants to discuss the possibility of a new set of Moncloa Pacts, the range of cross-party agreements made in 1977, as Spain returned to democracy after the death of Francisco Franco.

A similarly united front today would improve the Spanish parliament's ability to deal with the economic impact of Covid-19, which the IMF warned this week could be exceptionally damaging. The Washington-based organisation predicted an 8% contraction of Spain's GDP in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, which would be the largest annual drop since civil war broke out in 1936.

That figure starts to seem less worrying, however, when you consider that the Fund routinely changes its forecasts, even under normal circumstances. Amid all the confusion caused by this pandemic, those apocalyptic predictions will almost certainly be reduced, refined or simply replaced out over the coming months. Nevertheless, Spain will be better prepared to deal with whatever fallout materialises if its leading politicians form a united front.