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THE EURO ZONE

Ask me no questions

Where would Pedro Sánchez's minority government be without Royal Decrees? These allow Spain's administration to pass legislation without having to gain, at least initially, the support of other parties in Congress. One of the most recent of these Decrees, pushed through by the prime minister this week, aims "to support the reactivation of the economy and employment", and approves €50 billion in loans to help companies both within and outside of the financial sector cope with the pandemic's economic impact.

Section 86 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution allows the government to pass legislation without going through the usual parliamentary procedures, but only in "case of extraordinary and urgent need"; after being provisionally passed, a Decree then has to be debated and voted on by Congress within thirty days. Sánchez's minority government, 21 seats short of a majority even with coalition partner Podemos, has used these emergency measures several times since coming to power in June 2018. In some cases, such as the Decree that led to the relocation of Francisco Franco's remains last year, it was questionable whether the legislation passed was urgently needed. You might argue, though, that Covid-19 has inaugurated extraordinary times, making it justifiable for Sánchez to push through Royal Decrees without the prior consent of congress.

But a closer look reveals some intriguing details about the loan agreements announced this week - ones that make you wonder why the government is in such a hurry to extend its already overburdened credit lines. The conditions attached to the loans stipulate that Sánchez's administration receives "dividends, interest and capital gains" (according to the press release) in return and that the money thus raised "be deposited in the public treasury". So, is Sánchez's executive rushing because it wants to bolster and "digitalise" badly-affected sectors such as tourism, or because it wants to generate profits from lending businesses money (or both)?

There's nothing necessarily wrong with a government, in its role as lender, wanting to make a return on loans - although if you were being even more cynical than I am, you could ask whether this is an attempt to partly nationalise some of the companies due to receive funds.

The manner in which they were announced, however, marked a suspect departure from normality. According to a tradition that's been adhered to by successive Spanish governments for forty years, a press conference is held immediately after its weekly cabinet meeting, but this time it was just photographers who were invited to witness the signing of the agreements - i.e. no one who might ask difficult questions, or indeed any questions at all.

In passing yet another Royal Decree, then cancelling the Q&A session that should have followed its announcement, Sánchez lays himself open, once again, to the charge of insufficient transparency.