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THE EURO ZONE

Law and disorder

There were more signs this week that Spain's Socialist government is too attached to draconian confinement measures as a means of dealing with Covid-19, with parts of Andalucía, Madrid and Valencia inexplicably refused permission to move onto Phase One of the de-escalation process. But even more baffling is Pedro Sánchez's latest judicial decree, passed in congress on Wednesday by a typically random collection of votes, which aims to reduce the already substantial backlog of court cases resulting from lockdown.

The Spanish judiciary, of course, is being hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, just like every other sector. Judicial institutions have been functioning at around 20% of capacity during the prolonged lockdown, and the Ministry of Justice recently predicted a substantial increase in bankruptcy cases throughout the rest of this year and in 2020. These are among the many consequences of an excessively long economic "hibernation", which Sánchez seems in no hurry to terminate. Indeed, in fiddling around with judicial bureaucracy, the government is doing little more than treating the symptoms of economic stagnation, rather than addressing its fundamental causes, one of the most egregious being over two months of near-total lockdown.

In any case, are there not more pressing matters to attend to? How about ensuring that the country's shuttered capital opens up for business as soon as possible, ideally next week; or that the tourism sector can return to some kind of normality in time for the peak summer season? How about ending the stultifying state of alarm or, at the very least, offering a proper response to the opposition's objections to its continued extension, rather than just uttering empty platitudes about preserving "the unity of all to save lives, businesses and jobs" (as Sánchez said on Wednesday)?

The manner in which the judicial decree was passed also highlighted the constantly changing nature of support for the government's proposed legislation. The Catalan pro-independence party ERC, which was rightly critical of the fourth extension of the state of alarm last week, voted in favour, whereas Ciudadanos, which supported the latest extension, voted against. It did so, furthermore, for the most wonderfully Spanish of reasons - i.e because the proposed catch-up period for courts is scheduled for prime holiday time, which the party said was completely unacceptable.

There's something admirable about this defence of Spaniards' rights to enjoy the sun and the beaches during the hottest month of the year, rather than slaving away in offices and courtrooms to deal with the backlash from a global pandemic. But unless Sánchez allows the economy to return to a semblance of normality soon, there might not be any places to holiday when August comes around. Reshuffling and overloading courtroom timetables isn't going to help him perform that essential task.