Deep freeze

It's not just Covid-19 that's stalling progress in Spain: festering rivalries between the country's two main parties are also responsible for the ongoing political freeze. The mutual animosity between the governing Socialists and the conservative Popular Party (PP) was on display again this week, as PP leader Pablo Casado refused to back a new budget or to approve new appointments within the Constitutional Court or the CGPJ legal watchdog, both of which require his party's votes in congress.

This inflexible approach contrasts sharply with Pedro Sánchez's calls for the abandonment of ideological differences in dealing with Covid's impact on Spain, which he reiterated in a speech to leading Spanish businesses at the end of August. The pro-unity stance is now being backed by centrist Ciudadanos, a party that has been notably absent from the political centre-stage over the last few months. But after recent talks with Sánchez, Ciudadanos' leader Ines Arrimadas has announced that she supports a "moderate, sensible" budget, in order to finally depart from the 2018 blueprint according to which the country is still operating.

The reasons given by the PP for its unwillingness to back Sánchez, however, are not disagreements with specific budgetary policies or opposition to suggested appointments within the Constitutional Court. Rather, Casado has stated his refusal to support - or even recognise the existence of - the coalition government's junior partner, leftist Podemos. He will not do so, he says, because of Podemos' radical stance on the monarchy (abolish it) and constitution (revise it), and in light of recent allegations of financial irregularities made by two of the party's former lawyers.

In other words, Casado is trying to present his party as the true defender of Spain's Constitutionally protected unity and - in a new, somewhat unbelievable twist - one that simply will not tolerate suspicious financial activities, whether in its own ranks or those of other leading parties. "If there is a party that is implicated in illegal financing", the PP leader said recently, in reference to the allegations against Podemos, "[then] it is the government that has the problem".

The other problem is that Casado's party is arguably one of the most corrupt in Europe. As if the notorious Gürtel case (in which Rajoy himself appeared as a witness, and which ended his premiership in June 2018) didn't do the PP enough damage, details emerged this week of yet another investigation, which claims to reveal the existence of a spying circle within Rajoy's government between 2013 and 2015.

It's true that none of these activities - whether proven or as yet merely suspected - happened on Casado's watch. But they do suggest that if the current PP leader is concerned about working with corrupt organisations, he might want to look closer to home before focussing on the alleged misdemeanours of his opponents.